The New Westminster district parent advisory council wants to ban teachers from being able to serve as school trustees, though the city currently has three teachers who were elected to the board of education.
Trustees Michael Ewen, Jonina Campbell and David Phelan are all working teachers serving on the seven-member board. The district parent advisory council has forwarded a motion to the British Columbia Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils that calls for the Education Ministry to "disqualify" acting teachers from serving on boards of education.
"Employees of any board of education serving as school trustees on another board of education are unable to engage in all levels of decision making due to potential conflict of interest or perceived bias, based on their employment loyalties," a district parent advisory council notice on the motion stated.
Phelan is a first-term trustee and a high school teacher in Coquitlam. Voters knew he was a teacher when he campaigned and was elected last fall, Phelan said.
"We were all very up front that we were teachers," he said. "It was talked about quite a bit in the various all-candidates meetings and in the press and in the media. I think people were well aware of that. I think the people have decided who they want to vote for and who they don't want to vote for. I don't think anyone was hiding the fact that they were teachers..
"I'm a teacher. I'm also a parent. I'm also a community member. I've got a variety of perspectives on the school system," he added.
Phelan's wife works as a teacher in the district, and recently he opted against voting on the portion of the district's budget that dealt with teachers, instead declaring a conflict of interest.
Campbell said her role as a teacher gives her a "valuable" understanding of the school system.
"We all knocked on hundreds and hundreds of doors, and so many people said, 'It's actually great you are in this because you understand the inside of what happens,'" she said.
"Because I'm a teacher, I wanted to get involved in the school board because I want to advocate for a really strong public education system," she added.
The parents' group is waiting to see if the motion is accepted for a vote at the confederation's annual general meeting, held in Coquitlam from May 25 to 27. The confederation acts as a voice for parent advisory councils and district parent advisory councils in B.C. while lobbying the Education Ministry.
New West's parent advisory council is also forwarding four other motions to the confederation to lobby the Education Ministry. The parent council wants a return to "targeted" special needs funding, which would take special needs funds from the district's general operating budget and put it back specifically towards special needs students. The group wants to make it mandatory for boards of education to have a question period during public meetings and to have those questions and responses recorded in school board minutes. The district parent advisory council wants the government to mandate boards to keep a record and report all student suspensions and have set guidelines for a "universal" complaint processes across the province.