School board's 'guns pointed in wrong direction': Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O'Toole
Standing ovations in this town are usually reserved for the talents of Shakespeare and the greats who have performed here.
But there was another star on stage here Thursday.
On this night 90-year-old Canadian veteran Art Boon was bigger than Shakespeare — and Justin Bieber, too.
There was no debate on that either. The auditorium inside the City Hall here was packed to the balcony with people upset about the latest Shakespearian drama.
They want Art to be accompanied by his teacher son Rick to the 70th anniversary in the Netherlands and were not shy about expressing it.
When he walked into the room, everybody rose to their feet and applauded for about 10 minutes.
Message sent. And two trustees on the Avon Maitland District School Board were there to receive it at the head table at the community discussion about how it is a veteran could actually be put in a position to fight down to the wire to see if mindd can be changed and his son permitted to go.
As of deadline it appeared the original decision to not allow him to take an unpaid leave was still very much in place.
That said, the Sun has learned, that Rick Boon was called Thursday evening to travel to nearby Seaforth for a meeting with school board officials at its head office.
“I don’t know what it’s about yet,” said Art. “I sure hope they are talking to him about finding a way that would allow him to go on this trip.”
The school board has not responded to queries about it so far.
But Art said he was taking it as a positive that they were at least talking and meeting and considering.
Prior to this, rigid might be the best way to describe it.
“The school board has made it very clear when they said ‘they would not be reconsidering this decision,’” said singer and honorary RCAF Col. Loreena McKennitt. “We want to get them to reconsider it because this veteran deserves that.”
Art Boon was part of the liberation forces and is having the trip for him and his son Rick paid for the Dutch government as part of their big celebrations next week. He was at the 70th anniversary of D-Day at Juno Beach last year, as was his son Rick.
That the board allowed their teacher an unpaid leave last year, resulted in a decision to not allow him to have a similar opportunity this year.
Director of Education Ted Doherty said in weighing the needs of the board and the students he decided to not grant the leave.
There still is, however, time to make this right. The flight for the Netherlands does not leave until 10:55 p.m. Friday.
The movement to see that happen received a giant boost Thursday night when Veterans’ Affairs minister Erin O’Toole stepped into this and scolded the stubborn stance of the board.
“This is not about the teacher, it is about the Veteran, said O’Toole. “I truly hope that the Avon Maitland District School Board recognizes that public concern is based out of genuine concern for a 90-year old veteran who deserves to be heard. Sticking to your guns when they are pointed the wrong way is not leadership.”
That’s exactly how this packed room felt in Stratford. When trustees Doug Pratley and Lynette Geddes tried to explain the reasons behind it, there was an uneasy grumbling throughout.
McKennitt eloquently tried to urge the board again to look for a compromise and find a way to make this happen and make it right.
Moderator Ted Barris asked an excellent question: “If he was able to legally go on the trip to Juno Beach last year, why is it different this year?”
The Boons, after all, are not going to Disneyland, on vacation, to a curling bonspiel or a family reunion — all noble pursuits but not something worthy of missing work for. The Boons are going back to trace the steps of Canadian valour, glory and sacrifice and to reserve the recognition from the Dutch people who are very appreciative that people like Art risked his life to help them escape Nazi occupation. That is far bigger than any rule in a school board manual.
“We better start remembering where we got our freedoms,” Art told the crowd near the end of the meeting. “It was not from lawyers or rules but from 140,000 Canadians who sacrificed their lives.”
He received another ovation.
Doherty and the school board still have time to make it a great day and avoid a Stratford-style Shakespearean tragedy.