Unlike our other blog posts, this article represents an official stance of OSTA-AECO.
Every year students across Ontario reflect on their time in the education system and begin drafting speeches and campaign slogans to win the votes of students in their schools, neighbourhoods, and communities. The big goal? Being elected to their local school board as a student trustee.
The position of student trustee is a unique position and unlike any that exists in Ontario or Canada. Student Trustees are elected by students in their school districts to serve as pupil representatives on their Board of Education and provide student perspectives on policies, procedures, and initiatives that are being adopted by the Board. Student trustees also have the ability to begin new initiatives and bring the concerns, questions, and ideas of students to the school board.
This year, due to the unexpected circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, although it is student trustee election season for Ontario’s students, election procedures have changed as each school board works to find a way to elect student trustees in this new environment. To begin with, school boards across Ontario have differing election procedures and practices which usually involve students gathering to hear election speeches, but they have now had to make adjustments to the way those procedure takes place, and opt for alternative methods for students to hear the message of each student trustee candidate, and to cast a vote.
During this time, we recognize that many of the fundamental aspects of education delivery such as being in a classroom, engaging in rich student discussions, and working in groups, is severely hampered by the current pandemic. We also know that methods of supporting student voice through student trustee elections must also be changed given these circumstances. We’d like to thank all school boards who have implemented contingency plans for student trustee elections already.
In an effort to support the best interest of student trustees, for school boards that do not yet have a date in place, but have a plan to elect student trustees in place, we recommend said boards to aim to have student trustees elected by the end of May (May 31st) to enable newly elected student trustees time to acclimatize to their roles and engage in sufficient preparation for the upcoming year. This also allows for OSTA-AECO to help support and orient student trustees into their new roles before term turnover, and gives them an opportunity to run for an executive position in executive council.
For school boards that have yet to hold elections, and for school boards that have not developed a clear election procedure due to their usual procedure being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, OSTA-AECO suggests that boards implement an indirect election procedure. As outlined the education act, this means school boards can look at having student trustees elected “Indirectly, by student representative bodies such as student councils”. O. Reg. 7/07, s. 4 (1). Some other methods that school boards can use to engage in elections include having board leadership bodies, commonly known as student senates, elect student trustees, or having representatives from high schools and elementary schools in the board have delegates cast online ballots. Whichever mechanism a school board opts to use, ensuring that a process exists for elections will ensure that student trustees are able to be formally selected by their peers to serve, and that the school board’s entire student populace will not be required to vote due to the inherent challenges in ensuring all students have the means to cast a vote.
For school boards that have already elected students trustees, and for school boards that have yet to elect student trustees but have a clear understanding of how they will be electing student trustees during this time, we suggest that they continue to maintain their prescribed practice and continue to support students as they go through the election process in a rather unique set of circumstances.
We’d like to thank all of the school board staff who have worked extremely hard behind the scenes to make these elections happen. Please continue doing the amazing work you’re doing, it doesn’t go unnoticed.