School District 71 candidates respond to our questions

Oct 6, 2022 | Elections 2022, Latest Feature

By George Le Masurier

Decafnation asked this year’s candidates for the School District 71 Board of Education to answer three questions. Here are their responses.

The Candidates

Area A — Kat Hawksby (incumbent), Chelsea McCannel-Keene, Keith Porteous.

Area B — Michelle Waite, acclaimed

Area C — Christi May Sacht (incumbent), Kendall Packham

Courtenay —  two positions — Janice Caton (incumbent), Shannon Aldinger, Anita Devries, Jasmine Willard

Comox — Susan Leslie, Randi Baldwin, Vicky Trill

Cumberland — Sarah Howe, acclaimed

Challengers Keith Porteous, Anita Devries and Randi Baldwin did not respond


Question 1: What is your stance on the current Physical Health curriculum that includes sexual health education?

Chelsea McCannel-Keene, Area A
I feel strongly that Comox Valley Schools are on the right path with Physical Health (Sexual Health) policy and programming. In 2022, we are developing in a society where our minds will need to be informed and open to be compassionate citizens contributing to a safer world. As a school district, we must keep up and ensure that we are ahead of the curve because it is in our formative school years that we can inspire true acceptance and belonging.

Sexual Health curriculum has been thoughtfully developed for the primary and secondary years, with the desired goal of comprehensive sexual health education; Supporting students to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to maintain healthy bodies, sexual wellbeing, healthy relationships and sexual safety for themselves and others. I support this curriculum and SOGI Policy bringing us closer to this goal.

Kat Hawksby, Area A
Yes, I support the current physical health curriculum, including the sexual health component. Physical health is not limited to diet and exercise alone, it also includes the ongoing hormonal changes to the growing children and youth in our schools. It is incredibly important to be able to correctly label and identify emotions as well as body parts to ensure mental health and well being is also looked after.

Cristi May Sacht, Area C
As the current Area C Trustee, I have to share that we, as Trustees have no control over curriculum in our schools. As a mother of 4, I am in full support of sexual health education that is age appropriate and has been recommended by qualified professionals and approved by stakeholders (Teachers, parents, educational professionals). Any materials in our schools have been recommended, vetted and approved by a plethora of individuals, so I am confident in the curriculum and the benefit to the students.

Kendall Packham, Area C
I think it is a vital and important part of our education system. I am also in support of the consent portion of sexual health as being crucial to our student’s K-12 sexual health education. I have a teenage son in SD71, and I know how hard it can be firsthand to have those conversations from home, even in the most comfortable of households. I also have 2 younger children in SD71 and have always found the content being taught to be age appropriate and very easy for a child to understand and retain the information. I was always very appreciative and supportive of Dr.Claire when she taught our sexual health programs in the district, and I think she has done a phenomenal job teaching our teachers now that she has moved on from our district.

Shannon Aldinger, Courtenay
My concern is that the province’s recently revamped K-12 curriculum does not specifically include the term “consent” and there is also no obvious curriculum content relating to the interplay between sexual health and technology (ie: the rise in children’s access to and use of on-line pornography, sexting, cyber-bullying and cyber-stalking).

These deficits are disconcerting given the ongoing prevalence of sexual violence. According to Statistics Canada, one in four girls and one in eight boys will experience some form of sexual violence by age 18. Girls aged 15 to 17 report the highest rate of gender-based violence among all age groups; and youth who are indigenous, 2S-LGBTQ+ and/or have disabilities also experience higher rates.

The McCreary Centre’s Report on its BC Adolescent Health Survey revealed that the majority of students are not sexually active by the end of grade 10; however, grade 10 is the last year that physical health education is mandatory. This means that most students are not receiving any sexual health (or consent) education as they become sexually active.

Through our District Parent Advisory Council, I have advocated for age-appropriate consent education for all SD71 students (K-12) and for other measures to address sexual harassment and sexual assault. I have also advocated for similar initiatives at the provincial level.

Janice Caton, Courtenay
When it comes to curriculum and content- all grade schools in BC are required to follow the curriculum as set by the Ministry of Education and teachers have local autonomy on how they teach in their classrooms also.

Trustees and boards do not set the curriculum and honestly have little control if any over what is taught in classrooms – their roles are to set guiding principles and goals for the district. That being said our district has brought in speakers and other supports for staff and students- we also have held information nights for parents on what is being taught. Parents receive the curriculum prior to their child being taught it and they have the right and opportunity to pull their child from the course if they so choose.

I believe we have done our best to ensuring age-appropriate information is being taught to students and if there is a desire to add content such as “consent “ this can only be done at the provincial level and the board will continue to work with parents on how best to support all students

Jasmine Willard, Courtenay
The current Physical Health curriculum in SD71 has come a long way but there’s still more to do. Our schools are uniquely positioned to provide children with the knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes necessary to make informed decisions that promote positive sexual health throughout their lives. The absence of consent education from the current curriculum is simply one of many examples that demonstrate the curriculum is outdated. To move us forward, the School Board must ensure that best practices are reflected in updated guidelines and are accessible and inclusive. While the School Board does not create a curriculum, it has the power to support, advocate and direct resources in prioritizing this issue.

The next elected SD71 School Board has an important role to play here. Effective physical, mental and sexual health education means an open and non-discriminatory dialogue that respects individual beliefs. It must be medically accurate, developmentally appropriate, and culturally relevant. Let me go further in asserting that it is only as impactful as the quality of resources, guidelines and policies developed for (and with) parents, teachers, and administrators. What this means to me is that the curriculum is sensitive to the diverse needs of individuals, including thoughtful consideration of age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, physical/cognitive abilities and religious background.

Susan Leslie, Comox
In terms of Physical health curriculum, I believe there are gaps. The BC Ministry of Education ‘s new curriculum includes Career Education K-12 and Career and Life Education 10-12; within this framework, Physical Health curriculum and sexual health education fit beautifully. In fact, the Sea to Sky School District, where I recently retired from, uses this framework to address personal, physical and sexual (SOGI, consent, digital violations) wellness. This Career Education framework is from K-12, therefore learning about yourself, your attributes, feelings and identity is an ongoing process that deepens age appropriately throughout your K-12 learning journey. It is not a few one-hour sessions, once a year in grades 5,7,9 and 11. In these times students need an ongoing, safe, informative and supportive curriculum where they see themselves reflected as they grow and mature. Curriculum that supports them in making positive decisions for their personal, physical and sexual well-being.

Vicky Trill
Curriculum is set by the Ministry of Education. Curriculum core competencies can be found on the BC Ministry of Education’s website.

Included in the Physical Education curriculum are core competencies including, Physical Literacy, Healthy & Active Living, Social & Community Health and Mental well-being. Under each of these core competencies is a list of goals, some of which reference or relate to sexual health. I encourage everyone to inform themselves with any curriculum that interests you and to talk to your teacher and/or principal about questions or concerns that you may have.

It is not the role of a trustee to choose curriculum or to dictate to educators what type of resources they should use to reach curriculum competencies/ goals. The role of a Trustee is to monitor established policies and Board goals to ensure that they are being met. For example, if a board policy states that students and staff will feel welcome, included and safe in schools, then it is the Board’s responsibility to gather information so that they can monitor whether this policy goal is being met. As your trustee, I encourage anyone who would like to know more or have concerns to please reach out to me.


Question 2: What is the role of Trustees regarding the climate crisis, and what climate-action policies should the school district consider?

Chelsea McCannel-Keene, Area A
Environmental Stewardship is a pillar of our Strategic Plan, a living document that is developed and consulted by the board throughout their term. It is the role of the Trustees to ensure the Strategic Plan is considered with every decision and these pillars are at the forefront of those decisions.

To me, education is where that stewardship begins. I hope to advocate for increased Horticultural policies and programming if elected this term. Comox Valley Schools has the ability to instill a commitment to climate protection in its students. By education, community outreach, experience in activism and volunteerism, we can support climate action and lighten our footprint.

Kat Hawksby, Area A
The role of School District Trustees is to set strategic direction and advocate for the well-being of students and staff, including looking into and implementing policies on sustainable practices to do our part for climate action and to further reduce our carbon footprint. As for which policies should be implemented, that would require a deeper look into current practices and how we will move forward in a good way together.

Cristi May Sacht, Area C
As an individual, I have to take responsibility for my part in the climate crisis, do what I can daily and work to be an example for our children. As a Trustee, our board identified Environmental Stewardship and reducing carbon emissions as a strategic priority in the Strategic Plan created in 2018. I would love to see that taken to the next level in the next strategic plan. I would love to see greater recycling programs, more composting, more healthy food programs & continue to pursue energy efficiency in our buildings. Our current board supported the review and establishment of school gardens as well as outdoor educational spaces, in each of our schools, which is a huge win for students.

Kendall Packham, Area C
I know many of our district schools have “Green Teams” or similar which have created climate crisis protocols for their own school. I think our district has been doing well when it comes to lowering its carbon footprint and engaging the students in education around recycling, reusing and waste. Many schools also have their own garden which teaches and encourages food sustainability and composting.

We do have a few rural schools which require bussing or parent drivers as the roads can be unsafe for many students. Improving the safety of rural routes to encourage more walking, cycling and active transport would help alleviate the gas emissions those parents would use to drive their students and increase student physical activity. I think as a Trustee, working together with our schools to see what they are doing and how it is going is a great start and further implementing policies or procedures around climate action as needed.

Shannon Aldinger, Courtenay
Trustees can and should take a leadership role in addressing the climate crisis – in part because of the urgency of the climate crisis and in part to provide hope and leadership for our increasingly climate-anxious youth. These youth need to see adults leading the way, rather than hearing the message that it is a problem to be left to their generation to solve.

Trustees can and should take a leadership role in addressing the climate crisis by including it in the Board of Education’s Strategic Plan as well as considering the impact of climate change in its decision-making.

The school district can also continue to develop and promote curricular and extra-curricular educational opportunities about climate literacy, climate advocacy and climate justice; continue to reduce GHG emissions in relation to facilities its operates and land it owns; continue to reduce GHG emissions in relation to other ongoing practices of students and staff – such as encouraging active transit to schools, transitioning to electric school buses, establishing local purchasing practices, growing food through school gardens); and, join a national network of school districts seeking to develop and implement climate policy.

Janice Caton, Courtenay
the Board of education recently passed a motion acknowledging that we are in a climate crisis.
The board also identified in their strategic plan – environment stewardship as a priority and have put in place a plan to ensure that we continue to reduce our carbon emission and environmental footprint

Is there more to do absolutely – the costs of going green needs to be fully funded by the ministry
We will continue to support our outdoor classrooms and school gardens and other initiatives that schools and students continue to do in their own way of dealing with the current climate crisis
The district has made a commitment to go green in upgrading schools, converting to LED lighting, etc, and will continue to work with limited budgets on that process.

As for what climate action policies should we consider- that certainly needs to be a discussion with all educational stakeholders on what should be considered- do we ban all plastics from our schools, do we convert all of our vehicles to electronic only, do we look at going paperless also, and how do we pay for the changes that are needed to support these initiatives – we need to have those conversations and I am committed to doing so.

Jasmine Willard, Courtenay
I am committed to a healthy, climate-resilient future for our kids. Like any parent, I want our kids to be safe. That’s why school infrastructure upgrades to mitigate climate risks, from poor air quality to earthquakes, are so important. As SD71 continues to see a rise in enrolment, and families like my own find their forever homes in the Comox Valley, our infrastructure is facing additional pressures. Leading with a sustainability mindset, we have an opportunity to take a balanced, future-oriented approach to growth, find more efficient and sustainable energy sources and solutions for our local schools, while ensuring our kids are food secure and learn environmental values.

If elected, I will seek innovative partnerships and funding opportunities to green our schools and make them climate-resilient, support food security solutions and ensure that all School Board policies are examined from a sustainability lens.

Susan Leslie, Comox
The role of the trustee is to represent the best interests of every child. Our children are facing the effects of climate change daily and it is their generation and the generations to follow that will be living in an ever changed natural environment that will impact their lives. As there is no policy on climate change, just a nod to environmental stewardship in the District’s Strategic Plan as a Strategic Priority, I would like to be a part of creating a policy supporting practices that inform, connect and are actionable in connecting all learning back to the land. In Sea to Sky I was part of a senior team that opened 2 new land-based learning schools where all learning was centered on place, through an Indigenous lens.

Vicky Trill

As mentioned in the previous question, the role of Trustees is to set policies and a strategic plan. One of the current SD71 strategic plan goals is, “Organizational stability & Environment Stewardship”. Some of the actions around this goal are, “To reduce carbon emission & environmental footprint”, “To reduce the use of single-use plastics throughout the district”, Implement strategies for zero waste by increasing recycling & composting efforts in all facilities”, and “Augment the Active Travel Program & public transit commute initiatives”. This is a good start for climate action and I believe we should continue with these goals as well as enhance environmental stewardship. One way that we can continue on this path is to collaboratively work with local partners including the Indigenous keepers of the land to find more ways to care for the environment.


Question 3: With the Comox Valley experiencing steady growth putting most of our schools at capacity, what are your ideas to alleviate this pressure?

Chelsea McCannel-Keene, Area A
Rapid growth in our valley is a constant pressure that requires creative thinking and action planning from this board. In this coming term, we will need to consider many factors including, but not limited to the following: affordable housing, infrastructure, transportation, staffing and adequate support, possible grade adjustments per school and in Area A – continuing septic challenges. I am hopeful we can work with the CVRD to ensure each of the current schools are equipped to operate at full capacity with modular additions where possible. We will also need to consider which capital expansions are necessary and take priority.

In Area A specifically, I hope to collaborate with K’omoks First Nation as any plans go forward south of Royston. The parcel of land owned by the school district between Royston and Union Bay is situated nearby KFN Treaty Lands and offers an opportunity for partnership as the South Comox Valley expands, particularly in Union Bay Estates development and surrounding areas.

Kat Hawksby, Area A
The steady growth in the Comox Valley is a challenge. As Trustees it is our job to advocate to the ministry for additional funding for seismic upgrades and the funding of new classrooms to our schools adding more spaces as required. As it stands pressure on enrollment in our schools requires us to look at all possible options prior to requesting more funding. While looking at boundaries and catchment areas to relieve pressure points the last few years, we have purchased property on Idiens way for the future board office in an effort to recapture more classroom spaces in schools that are being used for additional resources and student services.

Cristi May Sacht, Area C
The current board has already been taking steps to alleviate the pressures on our district due to new families moving to the area. Currently, we have plans for a new school board office, in order to bring all student services together in one location and offer spaces in our schools back for student use. We have services currently spread all over the district in various schools, which will open up classroom spaces again. We have completed a boundary adjustment to reduce pressures from the southern areas and continue to monitor the situation. There are various ways to deal with overpopulation, but our goal is always the least impact on our families and students as possible, while balancing our numbers.

Kendall Packham, Area C
This is a very big question and while it is in my opinion the most important, I can’t speak to what I would do to alleviate it. I do know we need to make some big changes in a few specific catchment areas and have some hard talks around shifting likely boundaries and students within existing schools. I also know we need to be looking ahead to new developments and areas that will be of great concern in 2-3 years that we might not have on our radar already. This will no doubt be an ongoing struggle over the next few years as the Valley becomes a hot spot for new families. I will say, as a parent who has gone through the boundary consultation process and understands the huge impact it makes on our students and families, nothing about this process will be easy. I am committed to hearing the public’s suggestions and concerns throughout any process we take to try and work on this issue. I would also love to have conversations around the choice programs in our district and how we can make them more accessible for all students and families.

Shannon Aldinger, Courtenay
I think that an obvious starting point is to continue advocating for more funding from the province – for modulars in the short term and for additions to existing schools, as well as larger replacement schools for those slated for seismic upgrading/reconstruction and if necessary a new school over the longer term.

The district could also consider staggered school start and end times. This may be better suited to high school students given the change in teens’ circadian rhythm which often results in staying awake later at night and sleeping longer into the morning – or alternatively to accommodate jobs and extra-curricular activities. This could also be combined with increased opportunities for online learning on a course-by-course basis (rather than full-time enrolment in NIDES/Navigate), and would have the additional benefit of reducing traffic and bus congestion. The district could also consider increased use of outdoor nature classrooms.

Admittedly, none of these ideas are ideal and teachers would need to be consulted about overcoming the challenges of any given approach. The district should also continue to pay close attention to municipal land use – and not only new development of bare land, but also rezoning changes to monitor the development of higher story/density residential buildings.

Janice Caton, Courtenay
there is not going to be an easy fix or simple solution on this matter. The board will be required to make some difficult and hard decisions after a lot of consultation with the community. The board will need to connect with municipal and regional governments to look at growing and new subdivisions- they will have to consider boundary changes and school catchments before those subdivisions are developed.

You can add portables to some schools for more classrooms- but each portable costs the district a minimum of 300,000 that the ministry does not fund and the district pays out of our scarce operating funds. The only way to seriously alleviate those pressures is for the government to fund all capital projects such as portables, building new schools and additions to current schools in a more timely manner. But the government does not fund new capital projects nor new schools until districts can provide proof they are indeed in need of these and then it will take years before any relief is provided to alleviate growth pressures on neighbourhood schools.

We need to continue to advocate to the ministry and treasury board to fully fund all capital costs and consider growth projections as a valid reason for doing so.

Jasmine Willard, Courtenay
Our community is growing and since 2015, SD71 has witnessed increasing student enrolment. Our School Board has a chance to show real leadership in addressing the growing year-over-year enrollment trends. I’m someone who balances innovative solutions with responsible financial stewardship, applying a range of tools to uncover the most viable options for better public policy. As an economist who has managed many operational budgets for federal government departments, I am well-equipped to make strategic and fiscally-sound investments in our SD71 schools.

One of Comox Valley’s strengths is its welcoming attitude. We can balance this with our need to mitigate the issue of overpopulated schools and infrastructure, ensuring a safe, modern learning environment for students and teachers alike. All School Board infrastructure projects must be examined through a risk-informed and sustainability lens. This means gathering and applying current data and analysis while prioritizing meaningful and transparent consultation and developing well-consulted options. The key decisions entrusted to the School Board must be met with actions, accountability, continuous communication and follow-through. Fundamentally, School Trustees must be stronger advocates for SD71 with provincial and community partners, identifying innovative partnerships, and targeting policy windows to move us forward.

Susan Leslie, Comox
In terms of facilities, it would be important to look at land holdings, buildings not being used, construction costs and government capital projects. This link provides the process that school districts follow in order to access funds for a new capital project.

At the bottom of the directive, it states that there are no funds available right now for any schools due to budget restraints. Therefore it is more important than ever to be resourceful, innovative and mindful of ensuring students have access and opportunity to learn in healthy learning spaces that align with the values of the Strategic Plan.

Some ideas are boundary changes, facility repurposing, facility collaborations, flexible learning hours (shifts) and there are many more… But more importantly, all aspects of the best interests of every child have to be carefully considered with community input in order to make the best possible informed decisions.

Vicky Trill
This year there were about 500 more students in SD71 than the year previous. Some of this was due to students returning from online learning, while others were new to the Comox Valley. Some schools are over-full, while others are close to capacity. Consultation with parents, staff and local communities must occur so that the best solutions can be implemented. Before any decision is made regarding boundary changes or in deciding what to do with vacant school buildings (such as the Comox Elementary School) the Board must hear from all of you. I live in Comox and my daughter attends Highland Secondary. I look forward to having lots of conversations as I regularly connect in the community and at the schools.

The other part of the challenge is that the School Board must have the financial ability to address the challenge. The School Board must advocate to the Ministry of Education to ensure that SD71 secures the capital grants needed to be able to expand our capacity for the growing student population. I am an experienced School Trustee and understand how to and have established relationships in place that will allow me to be a strong advocate for School District No. 71.

This post was updated early Thursday afternoon to include late responses from Vicky Trill








General Voting Day is Saturday, Oct. 15 for all local government positions.

Comox Valley Regional District

General Voting Day and advance voting take place at the CVRD building in Courtenay from 8 am to 8 pm.

Go to this link for General Voting Day locations in the three Electoral Areas.

Additional voting takes place on Oct. 6 from 9 am to 12 pm on Denman Island and on Oct. 6 from 2 pm to 5 pm on Hornby Island


Advance Voting begins on Wednesday October 5, 2022, 8 am to 8 pm at the Native Sons Hall, and again on Wednesday October 12, 2022, 8 am to 8 pm at the Florence Filberg Centre.

General Voting Day, Saturday, October 15, 2022, 8 am to 8 pm at the Queneesh Elementary School, and at the Florence Filberg Centre.


Advance voting begins Wednesday, October 5 from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. at the Comox Community Centre, and on Saturday, October 8 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Genoa Sail Building at Comox Marina, and again on Monday, October 10 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Genoa Sail Building at Comox Marina, and on Wednesday, October 12 from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. at the Comox Community Centre.

General Voting Day runs from 8 am to 8 pm on Oct. 15 at the Comox Community Centre.


All voting in the Village of Cumberland takes place from 8 am to 8 pm at the Cumberland Cultural Centre. Advance voting takes place on Oct. 5 and Oct. 12




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More Elections 2022 | Latest Feature

Here’s the latest Comox Valley local government election results

Mayor Bob Wells and all Courtenay incumbent councillors have been re-elected. Evan Jolicoeur has also been elected. Manno Theos has lost his seat.

Jonathan Kerr, Jenn Meilleur, Steve Blacklock, Chris Haslett, Ken Grant and Maureen Swift have been elected in Comox.

Vickey Brown has been elected mayor in Cumberland, defeating long-time mayor and councillor Leslie Baird.

Voting down -20.6% in Courtenay, -22.3% in Comox and -50.9% in Cumberland.

Full results with Electoral Areas A, B and C, school board and Islands Trust results in the morning.

Daniel Arbour in Area A and Edwin Grieve in Area C won by wide margins. Richard Hardy defeated Arzeena Hamir by 23 votes.

Shannon Aldinger topped the polls in races for SD71 school trustees.

Click the headline on this page for complete results and voter turnout.

Our recommendations in the 2022 Comox Valley local government elections

Decafnation announces its list of preferred candidates in this year’s local government elections and for the first time we identify candidates that we think show promise and provide our reasons for not endorsing the other candidates. Our endorsements fall on the first day of voting at advance polls

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