Reflections on #VoteEve

On #VoteEve *, I’m usually in a campaign office, surrounded by other volunteers who are furiously trying to finalize our GOTV (Get Out The Vote) plan. I might be screening multiple social media accounts while streaming at least one 24/7 news station. I might be giving the candidate a pep talk; I might be giving other volunteers a pep talk.

Tonight is the first #VoteEve where I am the candidate – and I’m watching my husband (and Campaign Manager), Justin, play a mixed Ultimate Frisbee game at RIM Park with a group of lovely humans who (among other things) have signs on their lawn, donated to the campaign, did literature drops, and have supported me from day one.

I am so humbled the support that Waterloo Region has given me this campaign. From volunteers who helped drop 15,000 of pieces of literature across Kitchener, to those who ran all of the analytics and social media campaigns, to everyone who took a lawn sign – I have been blessed with some of the most fantastic volunteers and supporters. Seriously, I can’t even begin to express my gratitude for all of you and the many ways that you’ve given up your time to help out with this campaign; until I have the words, a simple THANK YOU!!!! will have to suffice. I could not have made it this far without you. So much love to all of you.

To my fellow candidates, thank you to all of the support that you’ve given me. As a first time candidate, I’ve been humbled by the support that candidates have given me (from across the Region, not just in the Kitchener race) and, in my case, a special thank you goes to Ted Martin and Sarah Marsh who have gone out of their way every step of this campaign to give advice, support, and encouragement. I am so thankful for the two of you and proudly voted for both of you.

Finally, I was on the phone with my mom (who, at one point, drove 2.5 hours from Chatham, ON with my dad to do two days of intense lit dropping for the campaign). And just like most parents out there with candidates in the race, she told me that she was proud of me and the campaign that we ran. I told her that one of the things that I’m most content with is that I can tell people that we ran a campaign that my mother could be proud of; I think, at the end of the day, that’s the best reflection I could have on #VoteEve.

* Shoutout to Jayne Herring for the #VoteEve hashtag.

Accessibility for Students in Waterloo Region

Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region has sent out their municipal election questionnaire. If elected, I am committed to ensuring that our students and educational community are supported, no matter their accessibility needs. There are a few of their asks that fall outside of the role of a school board trustee, however, as a citizen, I commit to advocating for these priorities.

According to Statistics Canada, 14% of the Canadian population aged 15 or older reported having an accessibility need that limited their daily activities. While I was unable to find concrete numbers on the number of students in Waterloo Region who have accessibility needs (be it physical, mental or learning-based), the Stats Can number could correlate to 1 in 7 students in Waterloo Region having an accessibility need. We also do not know the complexities of each of these students’ need nor the type of supports they need to have an equitable education.

My sister is a teacher who focused on junior grades before taking a string of long-term occasional (LTO) roles as an elementary resource teacher. There is a backlog (and a steep financial barrier) in the way that we diagnose and understand the complex learning and accessibility needs of our students, even more so for students with additional marginalizations (such as race, class, etc.). We need to ensure that, from in-take to IEP creation, the student is prioritized. On top of this, our classroom sizes are too large and there are not enough educational assistants (EAs) to ensure that the ratio of students to educators is at a level that supports the learning of all students. With a lower ratio of students to educators, educators can take the time and care to ensure that each student is supported, no matter their accessibility needs.

I have listed the Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region priorities and have bolded the ones that fall within the role of a school board trustee.


If elected, I promise to:

1. Engage with the local Developmental Services Ontario office to educate yourself on the housing and support needs of persons with developmental disabilities in our community.

2. Ensure that all demographic and population assessments of our municipality include a category that captures persons with developmental disabilities.

3. Ensure that ‘persons with developmental disabilities’ are specifically identified as a sub-category when determining the needs of ‘persons with disabilities’ in our community.

4. Ensure that 10% of all Planning Act benefits secured from developers is targeted to persons with disabilities.

5. Ensure that housing projects that include people with developmental disabilities will be a priority should you get elected.

6. Work with council to waive fees and development charges for zoning and building application for all housing projects that include people with developmental disabilities? This will reduce cost and provide a vital partnership that CMHC will look favourably upon, if applying for their funds.

7. Ensure that your municipality hires people with developmental disabilities.

8. Advocate for an Inclusion Facilitator for 1:1 camp support for camp programs within your municipality. Note: This currently exists in Cambridge and Kitchener.

9. Ensure that children with learning disabilities are not excluded from access to the services they need. Note: There is a recognized need for children and adults not deemed “complex enough” to meet various criteria (someone with a learning disability is ineligible for developmental services).

10. Ensure access to subsidized public transit for recipients of ODSP. Note: Subsidized bus passes will no longer be available to those with developmental disabilities once the Easy GO cards are implemented.

My Health Ed Curriculum Delegation Statement to WRDSB

Tonight, I had the honour of speaking on behalf of Plan B KW at a meeting of the Waterloo Region District School Board. I urged them, in my speech below, to support the validation of our most vulnerable students by refusing to reprimand educators who use their professional knowledge to teach about consent, LGBTQ identity, and medical terms for their bodies. I’ve included my full remarks below.

– Samantha

My name is Samantha Estoesta, a soon-to-be-parent of a child who will attend Suddaby Public School. I also was an attendee at the previous meeting on Health Education and appreciate how quickly the Board has responded to this crucial issue and how the Board continues to work to support our students and educators..

Today, I am here as one of the founding organizers of Plan B KW, an organization in town that focuses on supporting and advocating for LGBTQ youth, particularly those at the margins of society such as those of low socioeconomic status, queer people of colour, and those with visible and invisible accessibility needs. Through our work, Plan B has advocated for this community at each of the Post-Secondary Institutions in Waterloo Region, as a member of the City of Cambridge’s Diversity & Inclusion Steering Committee, and a variety of other conferences and gatherings. We are proud to be one of the few organizations that not just advocates on behalf of the queer community as a whole but does specific and detailed advocacy for the particular needs of queer people of colour, inclusive of immigrants and refugees. We proudly are the premier QPOC organization in Waterloo Region and use our organization to talk about key issues such as anti-blackness and Indigenous-Settler relations within the LGBTQ community. Another key aspect of our work is sourcing and providing gender-affirming clothing, be it sourcing significantly discounted or free Binders for Trans folks or offering free clothing and sanitized makeup in our regular clothing swaps. The vast majority of our attendees and organizers are youth still in school, with many of the organizers still or just barely removed from the educational system.

Delegations from the last meeting have already made it clear why the 2015 Health Education Curriculum is critical and life-saving for our most vulnerable students; I’m sure the delegations after me will continue to share these important stories. I am not here to speak on why you should advocate for the continuation of the usage of the 2015 curriculum. Instead, I come to you as someone with extensive experience in the creation of bylaws and policies that centre on diversity and inclusion, particularly in educational environments.

I have read through all of the applicable legislation, bylaws and policies regarding the professional standards demanded of teachers, the responsibilities of school boards, and the rights of our students, inclusive of Ontario College of Teachers Act and the Education Act.

As Waterloo Region District School Board is well aware, there are two key governing documents that are crucial for this conversation:

The Safe School Act, particularly Policy Memorandum No. 128 regarding The School Board Codes of Conduct, and The Ontario College of Teachers Bylaws Section 32 – Professional and Ethical Standards.

As the public may not be aware, Policy Memorandum No. 128 clearly outlines that all members of the school community must:

  • respect and comply with all applicable federal, provincial, and municipal laws;
    demonstrate honesty and integrity;
  • respect differences in people, their ideas, and their opinions;
  • treat one another with dignity and respect at all times, and especially when there is disagreement;
  • respect and treat others fairly, regardless of, for example, race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or disability;
  • respect the rights of others;

School boards provide direction to their schools to ensure opportunity, academic excellence, and accountability in the education system. It is the responsibility of school boards to:

  • develop policies that set out how their schools will implement and enforce the provincial Code of Conduct and all other rules that they develop that are related to the provincial standards that promote and support respect, civility, responsible citizenship, and safety;

And, again for the public, the Ontario College of Teachers Bylaws Section 32 – Professional and Ethical Standards states that the following are hereby prescribed as standards of practice for the teaching profession:

  • Commitment to Students and Student Learning
    Members are dedicated in their care and commitment to students. They treat students equitably and with respect and are sensitive to factors that influence individual student learning. Members facilitate the development of students as contributing citizens of Canadian society.
  • Professional Knowledge
    Members strive to be current in their professional knowledge and recognize its relationship to practice. They understand and reflect on student development, learning theory, pedagogy, curriculum, ethics, educational research and related policies and legislation to inform professional judgment in practice.
  • Professional Practice
    Members apply professional knowledge and experience to promote student learning. They use appropriate pedagogy, assessment and evaluation, resources and technology in planning for and responding to the needs of individual students and learning communities. Members refine their professional practice through ongoing inquiry, dialogue and reflection.

The following are hereby prescribed as the ethical standards for the teaching profession:

  • Care
    The ethical standard of Care includes compassion, acceptance, interest and insight for developing students’ potential. Members express their commitment to students’ well being and learning through positive influence, professional judgment and empathy in practice.
  • Respect
    Intrinsic to the ethical standard of Respect are trust and fair-mindedness. Members honour human dignity, emotional wellness and cognitive development. In their professional practice, they model respect for spiritual and cultural values, social justice, confidentiality, freedom, democracy and the environment.

Crucially, the Communications Office for the Ontario College of Teachers released a statement to Maclean’s stating that, “If a teacher flat-out refuses to deliver the required program to students, the responsibility is on the employer—in this case, the school board—to report the person to the OCT.”

I beg of the Board to consider having a motion that not only supports our most vulnerable students, but our educators. I urge you all to create one that contains the following elements:

That Waterloo Region District School Board, in accordance with The Safe Schools Act, The Education Act, and The Ontario College of Teachers Bylaws, will:

  1. Will develop a clear and actionable policy, in accordance with The Safe Schools Act and in cooperation with our educators and educational communities, that ensures that educators who teach all applicable Health Education Curriculum that involve current federal, provincial and municipal laws, inclusive of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, as per the Canadian Human Rights Act section 2 and 3, and consent and the numerous ways it can be given, as per the Canadian Criminal Code section 153, are protected from professional reprimand and persecution;
  2. Defer to the judgement of our educators, in accordance of the Section 32 of the Ontario College of Teachers Bylaws, in regards to teaching the 2015 Health Education Curriculum instead of the 1998 Health Education Curriculum;
  3. Refuse to report any educators to the Ontario College of Teachers who decline to deliver the 1998 Health Education Curriculum as per their professional and ethical judgement as stated in Section 32 of the Ontario College of Teachers Bylaws.

A snitch line has already been created by the current provincial government and the Ministry of Education; it will be weaponized by those who are unreceptive to the academic, medical and professional expertise behind the 2015 Health Education Curriculum. It is the duty of the Waterloo Region District School Board to use its power to protect its students and educators.

Thank you.

Testimonials

“Samantha Estoesta Williams is an extremely positive role model in the KW community. If you mention her name, it’s likely someone will say they know her and have been positively impacted by one of her many ongoing efforts to foster safety and care for people. In addition to volunteering for a number of organizations, Samantha often volunteers her time as a mediator; helping resolve interpersonal conflicts and promoting social wellbeing. While she continues to uplift and encourage female leadership in others; including donating her time to advance representation of women (especially BIPOC) in municipal/provincial politics, Samantha is a leader, herself; she is looked up to by an incredibly wide circle of people as a person who is active in their social justice efforts. Samantha is there. She is present. She is putting in organizational work, energy and all of her heart into bettering her community.
– Susan Cadell

If there is something being organized that is for bettering the lives of women, queer, trans and non-binary people, local politics, or enhancing KW’s multiculturalism, Samantha is present. If not, she is one of the organizing bodies who put their time, energy, and care into creating the event itself. Samantha attends events and stays in touch with many people and happenings. There are few people as genuinely open, caring, and involved as Samantha.

Her work now with increasing women and girls presence in the science, technology and math fields is particularly inspiring. Samantha is well suited for the work, and I am confident that many young women will see possibilities for themselves that they never did before. This work, along with Samantha’s moving testimonials about the women of colour who have inspired her, stands to make an incredibly positive impact for our KW community at large. Samantha is a leader filled with humility, integrity, and courage to act not just for others, but with others.
– Alysha Brilla, Singer/Songwriter, 3x Juno Nominee, Producer, Community Builder

Samantha is as fierce in love as she is in determination. Dedicated to the progress of all women, she stands in the gap for others by being there when needed and going above and beyond to make sure all are included and uplifted in their differences and gifts. A beacon in the tech sector, Samantha continuously affirms that one life can kindle and bring visibility to many others. And her authenticity and commitment to genuine listening is an example for all those engaged in the work of social justice. Samantha is an inspiration.”
– Devon Spier, Published Poet, Community Builder, Future Rabbi

Samantha’s Platform

There are four key pillars in Samantha’s Platform:

  1. Sustainable Fiscal Planning and Execution
  2. Student-focused, Forward-Looking, Research-Centred Policies
  3. Supportive, Equitable, and Accessible Learning Environments
  4. Transparent and Consistent Communication

Sustainable Fiscal Planning and Execution
There is a likely chance that over the next four years, the Province of Ontario will expect Ontario school boards to work with slimmer budgets while still expanding on programming, services and necessary upgrades to aging facilities. With over 10+ years of exemplary budgetary management, Samantha has a unique background stretching budgets in educational institutions while ensuring that the services and supports for students are not sacrificed. She hopes to utilize her years in government relations to work diligently with the municipal and provincial government to ensure no student in Waterloo Region is left behind.

Student-focused, Forward-Looking, Research-Centred Policies
Policy creation for the Waterloo Region District School Board should have three key elements: student-focused, forward-looking, and research-centred. In such an innovative ecosystem, schools in the Region should have policies that are as innovative as the products produced here, inclusive of accessible STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programming available for all WRDSB students. In her student-centred advocacy roles, Samantha has represented over 300,000 students in over 20 post-secondary institutions, and has written hundreds of surveys, qualitative studies for stakeholder engagement, bylaws, and policies. Her policy work can be found in national, provincial, and local non-profits, along with three university institutions across the country.

Supportive, Equitable, and Accessible Learning Environments
Waterloo Region has a diverse population with a large disparity between high and low socioeconomic status students. The students attending WRDSB schools come from a variety of different backgrounds and identities, inclusive of those who identify as Indigenous, immigrants, low socioeconomic status, visible minorities, religious minorities, LGBTQ, and those with accessibility needs. Each of these students deserve to have an accessible and equitable education. Samantha’s extensive policy and advocacy work has centred on diversity and inclusion, especially in regards to creating accessible environments where individuals are supported and treated equitably, no matter their background, identities, or abilities.

Transparent and Consistent Communication
As outlined by the current provincial government, there are going to be extensive changes in the school board, be it the re-evaluation of the 2018 Health Curriculum or the use of standardized testing as a benchmark. It is crucial that the WRDSB’s trustee are in constant communication with the guardians of their students and are transparent in all matters that effect them. As a seasoned communications professional and community builder, Samantha understands how important that two way communication will be over the next four years and is committed to openly working with her communities.

If elected, Samantha has a keen interest in actively participating in the following WRDSB committees:

Mental Health Advisory Committee
In her current role, Samantha is a valued member of the Persons with Disabilities (PWD) Committee for her employee where she routinely advocates for access to mental health services. As an advocate for student employees in technology teams, Samantha has created detailed SWOTs, prepared improvements plans, and a Wellness Plan that can be utilized by student and non-student employees. Samantha hopes to utilize her experience in accessibility advocacy and mental health support on the Mental Health Advisory Committee to ensure that every WRDSB student is holistically supported both mentally and physically.

Equity and Inclusion Advisory Group
Many in Waterloo Region know Samantha as an advocate for equity and inclusion, be it in educational settings or in technology. Over the last ten years, Samantha’s extensive policy and advocacy work has centred on diversity and inclusion, especially in regards to creating accessible learning and working environments. She hopes to bring this experience to the Equity and Inclusion Advisory Group to ensure that all students are supported and treated equitably, no matter their background, identities, or abilities.

Accessibility Committee
Through her current and past work, Samantha has extensive experience with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, inclusive of physical spaces, individual rights, and digital accessibility – all within the realm of educational spaces. Samantha hopes to utilize her experience in accessibility advocacy in the Accessibility Committee to ensure that every WRDSB student has a barrier free educational experience which allows them to thrive.

Early Years Advisory Group
As Samantha and her husband, Justin, are eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child late in 2018, the Early Years Advisory Group is of special interest to Samantha. The first years, inclusive of Pre-School and Kindergarten, are incredibly important in the development of children. As a soon-to-be-parent, Samantha hopes to ensure that those on this committee represent the parents and families of those in Early Years programming.

Internet Content Filtering Working Committee
Through her work in the technology field, Samantha understands completely both the usefulness and dangerousness of technology. She is also incredibly aware of the social media channels utilized by the youngest generation through her work as a STEM facilitator and social media specialist. Her extensive experience in this field would be invaluable to the Internet Content Filtering Working Committee, ensuring that the most vulnerable of technologists still access the websites and content they need for their education, while protecting them from predators and environments that spur on cyberbullying.