The Louis Riel School Division’s elected board has taken the unusual step of requesting the removal of a member, citing concerns its representative for St. Boniface has broken education laws.

“What we are seeking from the courts at this time is a determination as to whether trustee (Francine) Champagne has breached the Public Schools Act,” said Jamie Rudnicki, secretary-treasurer for the Winnipeg division.

LRSD alleges Champagne, who has been suspended, has violated minimum code-of-conduct requirements for a school trustee and failed to keep in confidence personal or confidential information obtained in her role as a board member.

Provincial legislation states school trustees are expected to act with integrity and in a manner that maintains the dignity of the office, respect others who may have differing opinions, and protect private information.

Rudnicki said he is working with LRSD’s legal counsel to complete an application to the Court of King’s Bench. The document will be filed — at the request of the board of trustees — “in the near future,” he said Friday.

During a public meeting this week, the board unanimously approved a motion to direct LRSD’s chief financial officer to begin the process of seeking to cut ties with Champagne, a rookie trustee who represents Ward 1.

Board chairwoman Sandy Nemeth told the meeting that trustees had obtained “some evidence that compels us to act.” Nemeth did not elaborate or take questions about the motion.

Champagne did not respond to a request for comment.

The trustee is serving her third consecutive suspension — a three-month period without pay.

She was first penalized in June after making a series of sensationalistic and anti-LGBTTQ+ posts on social media. Six weeks after that penalty was lifted, she was reprimanded for failing to submit paperwork.

Champagne is now on unpaid leave for breaching the board’s code of conduct by using racist language in a Facebook comment.

Cameron Hauseman, an assistant professor of educational administration at the University of Manitoba, said it is “incredibly difficult” to permanently remove a trustee from a school board.

Trustees either have to violate the Public Schools Act or be convicted of a serious criminal offence to be disqualified from holding office.

“The onus is really on the board to prove this violation rather than it would be on trustee Champagne to prove she hasn’t violated it,” Hauseman said, noting it is “exceptionally rare” for an elected official to be unseated.

Given boards are self-governing institutions, trustees police one another’s actions during their four-year terms.

As far as the president of the Canadian School Boards Association is concerned, the LRSD board’s pattern of unanimous decisions — excluding Champagne — are noteworthy.

“In 2023, the ideological influences and perspectives around elected tables, be that school boards or otherwise, is probably more varied than ever before,” said Alan Campbell, who is a veteran trustee in Manitoba’s Interlake School Division.

Campbell said trustees are responsible for holding each other accountable when people “fall out of line” on issues related to respecting sexual orientation and identity and facilitating safe and inclusive learning spaces for all community members.

Trustees are not elected to share their own personal opinions, he added.

“They are elected to represent the perspective of their constituents and to make sure that what is happening is in the best interest, in the case of school boards, of students and staff.”

By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Nov 24, 2023 at 17:06

This item reprinted with permission from   Free Press   Winnipeg, Manitoba
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