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Louis Riel school board moves meeting online following June protest against trustee’s suspension

The board of Winnipeg’s Louis Riel School Division will hold its first meeting of the school year online in an attempt to de-escalate tension after a protest at its last meeting over the suspension of a trustee accused of making transphobic and homophobic comments.

The move is a response to “some challenges we are navigating as a divisional community and some disruptions that … have really brought an element of anxiety and unease,” Louis Riel board chair Sandy Nemeth told CBC on Wednesday, following the board’s announcement, which was made in an email to community members on Tuesday.

Protesters showed up unannounced to the board’s Monterey Road office during its June 20 meeting, objecting to the board’s unanimous decision earlier that month to temporarily suspend trustee Francine Champagne.

The board said she made social media posts that “targeted the 2SLGBTQIA+ community” with transphobic and homophobic comments.

The board of trustees decided to hold its Sept. 5 meeting virtually after “an increase in social media posts on this topic, including notices of a protest and counter-protest to coincide with the next regular board meeting,” the division’s Tuesday announcement said.

“It really just sort of came out of a group discussion about what do we need to think about when we consider the safety and well-being of our community,” Nemeth told CBC.

She said the September meeting will be held at the division’s board office on St. Mary’s Road, which is in a less residential community than the office on Monterey.

“I’m not at all interested in folks … having to be in their homes or in their yards listening potentially to, you know, raised voices,” said Nemeth. “We have no interest in bringing any more disruption to a community.”

A woman in a button-up shirt and glasses speaks as groups of people mill about behind her.
Sandy Nemeth is the board chair for the Louis Riel School Division. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Nemeth will be at the meeting in person to facilitate, along with the board’s vice-chair and secretary-treasurer and division superintendent Christian Michalik. Other participants, including the public and other board members, can join the meeting online.

The board will discuss some agenda items it couldn’t cover at its last meeting as well as new items, including changes to its bylaws that dictate public participation in meetings.

“We have made a commitment to not allow individuals an opportunity just to … malign people, to speak mistruths and misinformation,” Nemeth said.

Champagne was given a three-month suspension — the strongest possible sanction under the Manitoba Public Schools Act — at the board’s June 6 meeting. That means her suspension ends on Sept. 6, and she will not be present at the upcoming meeting, Nemeth said.

The division’s announcement this week says it also issued “no trespassing” letters to the protesters from the June meeting.

“We have a duty to avoid exposing our students, families and staff to the aggressive and threatening behaviours including the homophobic, transphobic, and racist remarks made by some of the attendees at [the June 20] meeting,” the division’s announcement said.

The meeting agenda, along with instructions on how to join the meeting, will be posted to the division’s website Sept. 1, the letter adds.

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