Former Chilliwack DPAC chair says time for change at school district

More work needs to be done to truly make parents ‘partners in education,’ says form chair of the District Parent Advisory Council

Recently, I was asked why I care so much about this municipal election when I have moved out of Chilliwack. As past Chair of the DPAC I was close enough to see the dysfunction of the school board, the imbalance of power between the board and district staff, the complete disregard for teachers, support staff, and parents. I have waited three long years for this election so I could promote positive change.

As you may know, the DPAC voted to call for Trustee Barry Neufeld’s resignation after he made several discriminatory comments toward the LGBT+ community. What you may not know is that the DPAC spent almost the entire 2017/18 school year trying to work with the district to ensure that parents were properly informed about SOGI 123. We offered our assistance and it was declined. We invited the assistant superintendent, who is the district SOGI lead, to attend a DPAC meeting and he declined. We were told that he didn’t have the proper information yet and a presentation to the board would have to be made first. We were given a timeline for a parent presentation that kept getting pushed back month after month.

Meanwhile, every single board meeting was hijacked by anti-SOGI rhetoric and grandstanding from both trustees and the audience. DPAC was fielding questions and concerns from the parent community for months. We faced verbal abuse and defamation from community members who did not agree with our position. It was an awful time for teachers, support staff, parents, and especially students. An entire school year. During a time when we should have been discussing reconfiguration.

Finally, at the very end of last school year, a brochure and a PowerPoint were created with district specific and general information about SOGI, but we were told that a parent presentation would no longer be an option. Instead, the presentation was given to principals who could decide whether or not to present to parents. The incoming DPAC chair again invited the district SOGI lead to present to DPAC and he agreed to be at this September’s meeting. It would have been a great opportunity to start the new school year off right, and to get accurate information out to parents before the election. Instead, less than an hour before the DPAC meeting, the district presentation for parents on SOGI 123 was cancelled. Again. Because of the political climate. A political climate that the current board and senior district staff had a direct hand in creating.

The board had months to present the facts of SOGI 123. They had months to put people’s concerns at ease. They had months to make sure that this wouldn’t be a political issue. Instead they cancelled again, at the very last minute, and continue to perpetuate division in the community. If I was a resident of Chilliwack, I would be furious. I would vote for a complete change of guard in support of the teachers, support staff, and parents who have been challenging this board at every single meeting for years with no results.

If I was an elected candidate I would make it my top priority to clean out most of the senior staff from that district office. Why do I care? Because I spent the last three years at conferences and retreats with parents and teachers from districts all over BC and I know that the way things operate in Chilliwack is not the norm. I know that the district motto “Partners in Learning” is a farce because I have met parents and teachers who are actually partners in learning in their district. They have regular partner meetings, they sit on committees together, their concerns are addressed. SOGI 123 is simply the tipping point. Think about the annual changes made to transportation, think about reconfiguration, and the closing of CHANCE Shxwetetilthet and ask yourself if you were a partner in those decisions, or if you were simply on the receiving end of information about decisions already made. Decisions that directly impact your child’s education made by senior level staff, from an office, who do not consult teachers, support staff, or parents.

It’s time for change on the school board, Chilliwack. Please get to know the candidates; ensure they are not running on a single-issue that is beyond their scope, and please vote.

Justine Hodge

Edmonton, AB

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