23rd September 2023

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Winnipeg school trustee suspended for ‘transphobic social media posts’: Louis Riel board

A Winnipeg school trustee has been suspended for breaching a code of conduct with social media posts the board says have “targeted the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and been harmful to our entire community.”

The rest of the Louis Riel School Division board of trustees voted unanimously on Tuesday to suspend Francine Champagne for three months — the strongest sanction possible under the Manitoba Public Schools Act.

“This decision to suspend trustee Champagne came after the realization of some incredibly unfortunate — and I will define unfortunate to mean disrespectful, hateful — comments on her Facebook page specifically indicating transphobia, homophobia and just a general complete lack of [respect] for the LGBTQ community,” board chair Sandy Nemeth said.

“The school board recognized this immediately, not only as a breach of code of conduct, but complete disregard for our policy specific to human sexual diversity.”

CBC News has reached out to Champagne for comment but has not had a response.

A letter with the letterhead of Louis Riel School Division.
A notice sent by the Louis Riel School Division school board about Francine Champagne’s suspension. (Louis Riel School Division)

Nemeth said she hopes the suspension sends a message that such comments are not acceptable “at any level” and that the division will uphold values related to safe and caring schools.

“There is no place for this kind of behaviour or language,” she said.

The division has just one more meeting before the end of the school year, however. The suspension will carry through the quieter months of summer before expiring Sept. 6.

“We don’t have the ability to break that [up]. We can’t because we are trustees every day and in every month,” Nemeth said.

The postings were brought to her attention by someone in the community. She then took them to the board.

In a notice about Champagne’s suspension, the board said it “acted immediately” when the “transphobic social media posts were brought to our attention.”

The language in the posts was disappointing but predictable, Nemeth said.

“It has been generally known where she lands around this particular topic, so her viewpoints were not necessarily surprising, but they have never arrived at our board table [before],” she said.

“So it wasn’t a complete shock. At the same time, it was very disturbing to actually see.”

The decision to suspend Champagne has been overwhelmingly backed by the LRSD community, Nemeth said. She has received more emails about it in two days than on any other topic in the past year, she said.

The next challenge, she said, will be when Champagne returns.

“Something that has been raised by a number of people is, what does our division look like and feel like when someone who has shared these viewpoints now comes back to a role where they have a responsibility to lead and to make governance decisions to set the direction of the school division?” Nemeth said.

“I have to hope that, given the opportunity for maybe some professional learning and some conversation, that trustee Champagne will come to a different viewpoint. She has to regain the trust of her board and the senior leadership team, the entire school division, teachers, staff and students and her community.

“So there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Nemeth is aware of a community-led petition to have Champagne removed permanently from the board but said it’s not something the board has authority to do.

That said, Nemeth added, “I don’t know that I disagree with people.”