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Media at Trudeau Sisler visit a 'surprise'

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Winnipeg School Division says Justin Trudeau's visit to Sisler High School Thursday was never meant to involve the media.

The division said Friday it was the federal Liberal leader's staff who invited the media.

Media who showed up were told they'd have to leave the school.

"We knew from the school it was a school-based event, it was never a media event," WSD communications officer Dale Burgos said Friday.

A Sisler teacher invited Trudeau nine months ago to speak on global and political awareness issues, Burgos said. The teacher also invited politicians from all the other parties, including federal Tory Minister of State for Transport Steven Fletcher, who has yet to speak.

"It came as a surprise" to learn, only when journalists showed up at Sisler, that Trudeau's people had invited the media, said Burgos.

Premier Greg Selinger and Child and Youth Opportunities Minister Kevin Chief, among others, have spoken before to Sisler students without the media being invited, Burgos said.

No school division in Manitoba allows outside parties to invite the media into a school without the school division's knowledge and approval. Under the Public Schools Act, anyone not a student or employee is considered a "stranger" and can be in the school only with the school's consent.

When Selinger or Education Minister Nancy Allan want to use a school to make an education-related announcement, they contact the division in advance to get approval and to give the school time to obtain written consent from parents for their children to attend and potentially be photographed, filmed, or even interviewed, Burgos said.

Trustee Mike Babinsky said Friday that, internally, the division is saying longtime Sisler principal George Heshka made the decision to exclude the media. "They're hanging this on George and saying George made the call," he said.

Babinsky said it is clear to him the division favours NDP access to its schools and approves the NDP "using the WSD students and schools as backdrops for their political bragging rights."

The WSD should have known Trudeau would attract media attention, Babinsky said.

"It's like Mick Jagger coming to Sisler -- people are going to show up," Babinsky said.

Babinsky released emails that show trustee Suzanne Hrynyk alerted chief superintendent Pauline Clarke Wednesday night Trudeau was coming, and that Hrynyk told Clarke, "I don't think it is appropriate for MLAs and MPs to be using school time to groom young voters."

Hrynyk was not available for an interview Friday, but will table a notice of motion Monday proposing trustees develop a policy on political access to WSD schools.

Reading, writing & politics

While Winnipeg School Division has yet to set a policy, Pembina Trails School Division has a clear policy on politicians speaking at its schools: "The division will permit present and former leaders of provincial and federal political parties and the local member of Parliament and/or member of the Legislative Assembly or candidates for such offices to speak to students during school hours, subject to the following:

That the person:

has shared the purpose of the presentation with the principal in advance;

has the approval of the principal; and

that student attendance at such a presentation is on a voluntary basis. During an election campaign, if one candidate is afforded the opportunity to students, efforts will be made to have all candidates appear at the same time."


Seven Oaks School Division superintendent Brian O'Leary said Friday: "We are open to hosting political leaders from all political parties, have done so in the past and will in the future. We are non-partisan and feel it's our duty to educate students about democratic processes."


A River East Transcona S.D. official said: "We are open to having politicians come to our schools for educational reasons and always try to have all parties represented during an election. We are non-partisan as a school division and do stress the educational aspect and openness for all being represented."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2013 A13

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