The province’s largest school board has taken the rare step of suspending one of its trustees until the end of the school year because of her social media posts.
Jennifer Chen, who represents Ward 6, will be barred from all trustee duties, including attending meetings and receiving material related to in-camera agendas, until June 30.
Chen was found to have breached the Winnipeg School Division’s trustee code of conduct twice in less than a week, "while also defying the board of trustees by resisting to act in good faith and failing to respect the code of conduct and the board’s established due process," said a news release published late Thursday.
Earlier in the week, the board voted to censure Chen for a tweet she posted about requesting the board discuss collective bargaining with teachers at a confidential meeting.
Salary negotiations have been contentious, as local educators repeatedly called on the board to fast-track and finalize a contract before the province passes legislation to create a centralized teacher bargaining model.
(A four-year agreement, which will result in a reduction of 110 to 120 teaching positions, was ratified late Thursday.)
Upon the board’s request, Chen deleted the tweet in question. She then posted on Twitter Wednesday that she was saddened the board censured her for "tweeting about teachers," and indicated she believes in transparency and accountability to staff, parents and community members.
Chen said Friday she takes responsibility for her actions, but defended her tweets, saying she needed to advocate for teachers and inform her constituents about being penalized for what she felt was advocacy work.
"I’m saddened that I won’t be able to advocate for the people in Ward 6 during this duration of suspension. I represent schools and families in one of the most diverse and lowest income communities in Canada and I have been an outspoken trustee on our board," she said.
"To me, the role of trustees is not about rubber-stamping, it’s about responding to the needs of the community and speaking up."
Chairwoman Betty Edel said Chen was not censured for advocating for teachers as her tweet suggested, but for breaking bylaws regarding confidential matters.
"We need to stop this myth that only one trustee cares," said Edel, noting many trustees have been engaging in discussions about contract negotiations behind the scenes.
She added, "To be a team member on the school board means that… we all respect each other and that we all tell the truth about each other and that we all focus on the needs of the Winnipeg School Division."
Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press