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London-region school board candidates endorsed by ‘anti-woke’ parent group | CBC News

A website that claims to endorse “non-woke” candidates running in Ontario’s school board races is vowing to continue to spread its message ahead of Monday’s municipal election, despite running afoul of the province’s third-party advertising rules. 

Local school board races, including those in the London region, have become part of a concerted effort by conservative lobby groups to undo policies aimed at addressing systemic discrimination, a CBC News investigation has found. 

The normally sleepy contests for trustee positions have been highly charged this year with faith-based groups, political parties and self-styled “anti-woke” organizations involved to an unprecedented degree. 

There are eight candidates in this region who are endorsed by the Vote Against Woke group, which purports to be run by parent volunteers. Those who run the website have not responded to CBC London’s request for comment, and some candidates we spoke to did not know they were on the endorsement list. 

“I’m deeply concerned about the direction our elementary and post-secondary schools are going,” writes David Sabine, a London school board candidate, on his website. He’s one of the local trustee candidates on the Vote Against Woke endorsement list.

“Our children are being indoctrinated, by radical, activist ideologies such as Critical Race Theory, the controversial Sex-Ed Program, Gender Identity Theory and, a disturbing White Privilege curriculum (sic),” Sabine wrote. 

David Sabine is a candidate for TVDSB trustee in wards 1, 11, 12, and 14 (David Sabine/Twitter)

Another candidate, Paul Gray, writes on his campaign website: “Let’s restore common-sense boundaries for topics like sex, racism, and politics … Children should not be further subjected to panic-driven policies like closing schools and playgrounds, mask mandates, and segregation based on the medical procedures they do or don’t have.”

Vote Against Woke ‘cancelled’

On Friday, the Vote Against Woke group moved its list of endorsements off its website and onto a Facebook group and Google document, saying they had been “cancelled.” In fact, they contravened Ontario’s third-party advertising rules, which state that any organization that wants to support or promote a candidate must register with the appropriate municipality. 

“Despite being parent volunteers, we have been advise (sic) by Municipal clerks that our recommendations are not able to continue on a hosted site unless all persons register with every municipal elections clerk in Ontario, which we are not willing to do,” the group wrote on its website. 

In the United States, right-wing lobby groups have poured millions of dollars into local school board races. 

Advocates for the trans community across the country say they’re concerned that local campaigns will contribute to anti-trans rhetoric. Some candidates have been using transphobic rhetoric and portraying gender-inclusive sex education as an attempt to indoctrinate children.

They say that kids should not be taught about non-binary genders and pronouns at school, for example. Another London candidate wants Pride flags removed from schools, calling it “political symbology.” 

“I believe there is too much sexualization of our primary school grades, and I would like to see sexualization taken out of our classrooms for the primary school grades, because they’re just not mature enough to handle that,” London trustee candidate Claire Roberts, who is endorsed by the Vote Against Woke group, told CBC News. “Reading material that is overt with sexualization shouldn’t be encouraged in our elementary schools.”   

Claire told CBC she did not know about the endorsement and that she does not like being pigeonholed 

Trustees have ‘limited role’

Some of the candidates seem to have a misunderstanding of what local trustees actual do, said Bill Tucker, a former director of education who now teaches at Western University. 

“Trustees do have an important role in education, but they have a limited role, because curriculum is basically determined by the ministry of education in each one of the province of Canada,” Tucker said. “Trustees have very limited say in terms of what is being taught or how it’s being taught in schools.” 

Trustees have three main roles: hiring their local director of education, developing a budget, and advocating for the children and parents in their communities, Tucker said. 

There’s always been pushback from some parents who want school to be more back-to-basics rather than discussing larger issues going on in society, said Bill Irwin, who studies and researches areas of education at Huron University College.

“There’s always been a role for public education to provide civic education, but how far does that education go in what makes a good citizen, that seems to be the question here,” Irwin said. 

People in Canada see ruckus school board meetings in the United States and parents there pushing against mask mandates, sex education and how race is taught, and they think they have the same sway here, he added. 

“There’s some confusion that if people can do it in the United States, we can do it here. But a trustee here sets broad policy, sets the budget, supervises their employee the director, and looks at strategic issues, for example school boundaries. That’s what they’re responsible for.” 

Ultimately, Irwin thinks there’s a perception that things are changing without an alignment with some parents’ values, and that governments are dictating the values that kids should have. “A push-pull relationship between parents and educators have been going on for a long time, but I think ultimately the anti-wokism movement will be disappointed,” he said. 

There could be some disruptions at school board meeting, but those won’t make a lot of difference in the curriculum and classroom, Irwin added. 

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