VOCAL MINORITY?: Brandon school trustee wants committee to screen books

Children and teachers will return to Manitoba classrooms next week, and as a new school year is set to begin, an ongoing controversy over banning books at schools continues to cause turmoil in some Manitoba school divisions.

Just days before the new school year begins, Brandon School Division (BSD) trustees held their first board of trustees meeting for the 2023-24 school year on Monday evening, and once again the issue of monitoring and banning books was on the agenda.

BSD Trustee Breanna Sieklicki spoke at Monday’s meeting, and claimed that she believes that BSD has now “lost trust” among some parents and guardians because she said there are books in school libraries with content she claimed contain “sexually explicit acts, vulgar language, and harmful behaviours.”

“The precedent that we should be making is that we hear the concerns of parents and grandparents and we take your concerns seriously,” Sieklicki said. “We cannot dismiss these concerns, because some believe they are only the thoughts of a vocal minority.”

Sieklicki put forward two motions at the meeting, with one requesting that a committee be formed to review books and materials in school libraries and classrooms, and remove books that contain “adult content.”

A similar motion to form a book committee was rejected by BSD back in May, and on Monday no trustees seconded Sieklicki’s motion.

Sieklicki’s second motion on Monday asked that parents now be informed about all activities involving their kids, and about what kids are learning, seeing, and hearing at school.

“We must create a transparent parent policy within our division that will allow parents and guardians to be informed of all activities involving their children,” Sieklicki said.

“This will include classroom curriculum, third-party presentations, and personal student information. This will allow parents to have an option to opt-out if they deem something as inappropriate for their child.”

That motion also received zero support from fellow BSD trustees, and will also not move forward.

Controversy over what books are available in BSD schools and libraries has been brewing for months, after Brandon resident Lorraine Hackenschmidt proposed the idea to BSD trustees of a book committee during a May 8 trustee meeting, a proposal that was later rejected by BSD trustees.

Hackenschmidt also said during the Aug. 8 meeting that she was concerned about the “LGBTQ ideology,” being taught in schools, while claiming some books on shelves in the division’s schools could lead to “sexual grooming and pedophilia.”

After Sieklicki’s motions received zero support on Monday, BSD chairperson Linda Ross said there are no plans to revisit the issue, because she said it has been decided.

“These matters have been dealt with by the board,” Ross said. “And unless I see some interest in the board on revisiting these matters, than we have made that decision clearly I believe.”

Concerns about books available to children have also been causing controversy and turmoil in Winnipeg recently, as the Winnipeg-based Louis Riel School Division (LRSD) recently sent letters to 35 people who they say caused a “disturbance” at a June 20 LRSD meeting where book banning was discussed, informing them that they are now permanently banned from all LRSD property, including all division schools and administrative buildings.

“The division has a responsibility to protect students, staff and families from the aggressive and threatening remarks and behaviours that the community experienced at the meeting.” states the letter, which was shared publicly online by Winkler resident Karl Krebs, who is now banned from all LRSD property.

“As a consequence you are no longer permitted at any of the division’s properties and/or premises.”

Talk of banning books has also been a growing issue in the city of Winkler recently, as during a council meeting on March 14, a delegation asked Winkler city council to stop funding the South Central Regional Library until certain books that touch on issues of sexuality and LGBTQ issues are removed from any areas of the library where they can be viewed or borrowed by children.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun