The election campaign for the Chilliwack school board is getting ugly before it begins with several candidates galvanizing around what is – or at least should be, according to teachers – a non-issue.
Incumbent Barry Neufeld first made the Ministry of Education-approved anti-bullying teaching resource SOGI 123 (sexual orientation and gender identity) a controversy a year ago with a series of inflammatory Facebook posts that led to, among other reactions, his informal censure by the school board, repeated calls for his resignation, and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) filing a human rights complaint against him.
Among Neufeld’s inaccurate statements about what SOGI 123 is, he predicted that the government would soon start apprehending children to put in homes to explore homosexuality.
In recent weeks, a number of people with similar views have stepped up to say they will run for school board, some overtly pointing to SOGI 123 as an important issue.
That has led to some labelling the group “The Hate Slate” for running on, at least in part, anti-LGBT platforms. Incumbent Dan Coulter used the term “Hate Slate”, and candidate Willow Reichelt posted on her campaign Facebook page that “it is not acceptable for school trustee candidates to be homophobic and/or transphobic.”
Most recently, Darrell Furgason stepped forward with a press release to The Progress on Sept. 4 about his candidacy, something he posted a few days prior on a Facebook group he runs, Worldview Studies Center (sic).
It’s on that Facebook page where Furgason expresses links to websites with inflammatory content about “homosexualism” and “the push by the LGBTQ lobby and the public schools here in B.C. to indoctrinate our children via SOGI curriculum.”
(Furgason also argues that the world is 6,000 years old, that Adam and Eve were real people and their genetic line links to all humans.)
On Sept. 7, Furgason outlined the unofficial “slate” of candidates that those who are opposed to SOGI 123 should vote for. The list includes himself, Neufeld, Erma Vietorisz, Kaethe Jones and incumbent Heather Maahs.
Maahs has not yet formally announced she is running for re-election. As for Vietorisz and Jones, both have expressed opposition to SOGI 123.
The problem with all this rhetoric and polarization on the subject is that the school board has no authority to remove SOGI 123 from schools, according to the teachers’ union.
“School boards absolutely cannot reject, prohibit or ban provincially approved resources, curriculum or classes,” according to Chilliwack Teachers Association (CTA) president Ed Klettke.
“School boards cannot prohibit or exclude resources. That is outside their power, and this is illustrated by the Surrey book banning case.”
That refers to the 1997 case where three children’s books, Belinda’s Bouquet, Asha’s Mums, and One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dads, Blue Dads, were banned by the Surrey School Board from elementary schools.
Twenty years ago parents complained that their religious beliefs were offended by the books, but a seven-to-two decision at the Supreme Court of Canada stated that the ban breached the School Act, which states public schools are to be run using “strictly secular” principles whereas the Surrey board’s decision was “significantly influenced by religious considerations.”
While the CTA president was adamant, according to his communication with the BCTF, that the school board has no authority to stop the use of provincial resources such as SOGI 123, the Ministry of Education doesn’t quite agree.
“While teachers have some autonomy when choosing resources to use in their classrooms, they do have to comply with the rules of their boards,” a ministry spokesperson said via email, adding that while the Ministry is a supportive partner of the SOGI 123 set of resources, it does not mandate use of any specific resources.
What school boards and independent schools in B.C. must have are codes of conduct and anti-bullying policies that are SOGI-inclusive.
“SOGI education and policies are well supported by teachers, superintendents, trustees and parent groups who want to see all forms of discrimination and bullying removed from the school system,” the spokesperson said. “SOGI-inclusive education can help us remove all forms of discrimination and bullying from B.C.’s school system.”
As for the outgoing trustees not seeking re-election, former board chair Paul McManus urged voters to not make SOGI or SOGI 123 a factor in how to cast a ballot.
“Believe me, if you talk to most teachers and administrators in our schools, you will discover that this ‘concern’ has been overblown by some members of the community,” he said in his statement issued about not seeking re-election. “Our school board should not be determined by a candidate’s stance on SOGI or SOGI 123.”