In the court of public opinion and at the board of education table, John Young was a polarizing figure. Agree with his positions or not, he didn’t waver in his convictions and worked tirelessly to give all kids an equal shot at a good education.
Young died last week at age 92 after spending decades fighting for a truly equitable public school system, unlike the hybrid system we have now where some students can enter sports, music or arts academies by paying hefty fees, and where parents routinely pay for school supplies at the beginning of the year.
Twice in his 20-year trustee career with the Greater Victoria School District Young threw extracurricular activities and district budgets into turmoil.
Elected in 1996, he shocked fellow trustees by telling students directly not to pay course fees. He went on to successfully sue his own district, SD61 to ban fees and honour existing education legislation (the minister of education overruled that ruling).
In 2006, the B.C. Supreme Court again ruled in Young’s favour and declared that schools can’t charge fees for activities done during school hours or for courses leading to graduation. The Ministry of Education amended the School Act to exempt specialty academies and music programs.
It wasn’t an ideal outcome for Young, but he forced the province to better regulate fees charged by schools, but his crusade wasn’t popular in all circles.
Until exempted in legislation, parents of kids in sports and arts academies feared such programs would be shut down. The ministry wasn’t prepared to fund expensive programs like hockey academies, and at times Young seemed that he’d rather have an even playing field, no matter what the cost to educational opportunities to those who could afford it.
Even this newspaper, in an opinion piece five years ago, wrote he was going too far and overstated the problem of fees in school.
But that is the role of the maverick and idealist. He fought for what is right and just, and left in his wake a better public education system.