Who watches the watchers?

Last [Tuesday] I made the trip from Vancouver to Chilliwack to attend the rally in support of LGBTQ+ Youth and the public meeting of the Chilliwack School Board regarding SOGI 123. It was a night of mixed emotions for me. I was born in Chilliwack and am a teacher employed by SD33. I was returning to my home.

My heart swelled when I saw the number of people who had shown up in dismal weather to stand in support of equity and inclusion in our schools. There were parents, teachers, children, union members—a very diverse crowd from as far as away as Vancouver, Mission, and Surrey. And then I went in to the meeting: that was the hard part.

Trustees are tasked with overseeing education in their districts and senior staff—specifically the superintendents—are tasked with providing advice, direction, and support. I heard trustees talk about “listening to their community” while limiting speakers to one question with no chance to provide background. I watched discussion on a motion aimed at providing the Board with powers beyond their mandate. Trustees are not allowed to vet curriculum resources and proscribe those they do not approve (see Surrey Book Banning, SCC 2003). Yet not a single person in the room raised the problematic nature of the motion. At least it was referred to the superintendent instead of being passed.

I heard trustees repeatedly refer to the need to “discuss SOGI 123 and hear opinions before deciding.” Again, not a single person in power in the room raised the fact that there is no more discussion needed or possible. This is a Ministerial mandate with Ministry-approved and developed resources. This is a legal obligation of the school board centered on the BC Human Rights Code.

It appeared to me that the trustees feel they have an option about whether they do or do not accept this element of their job. They don’t. Yet, again, not a single person in the room who is charged with leading the district raised this point. Do they not know? Are they unwilling to do their job? There is only one trustee, Dan Coulter, who has publicly spoken out on the impropriety of Barry Neufeld’s recent actions, and I thank him for being a lone voice in defence of diversity and respect.

I have heard from many parents, teachers, and students who are deeply concerned about the developments in their school community and the actions (or lack thereof) of their leadership. They are all asking the same question: Who do we turn to for help in ensuring our leaders fulfill the legal obligations of their job? The answer might be our elected MLA Laurie Throness, if he had not already come out publicly in support of the trustee who spoke at a hate group rally last week. So that oversight is gone.

Thus, we are left with the age-old question: Who watches the watchers?

I would also like to publicly state my appreciation to Jessica Peters for her excellent reporting of this ongoing situation in the Chilliwack School District. She has provided a factual account that allows me to stay well-informed even from a distance.

Clint Johnston

BCTF Second Vice-President

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