The Chilliwack School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night (May 12) to accept binding arbitration and submit next year’s calendar.
The vote follows months of heated debate on the issue, after an arbitrator handed down her decision on Feb. 28, 2020 that sides with a two-week spring break option that the Chilliwack Teachers’ Association was pushing for.
But the vote wasn’t without notable animosity between board members, and some trustees used their trustee report time to voice their displeasure with their own votes.
The calendar discussion was added as an amendment at the start of the meeting, by Trustee Willow Reichelt. She and Trustee David Swankey had stepped out for all discussions on the calendar previously, due to a perceived conflict of interest. Both of their spouses are teachers.
But as reported by The Progress last week, the board did receive legal counsel on that matter, and Reichelt informed the public that she in fact could have voted previously. Swankey acknowledged the same.
“I will vote in favour of this motion because I do believe in the rule of law,” Trustee Darrell Furgason said. In past votes, he was against the two-week break option as he didn’t feel it would serve families suffering economically due to the pandemic.
Trustees Heather Maahs and Barry Neufeld also both changed course and voted in favour of the ruling. Maahs noted that the timing gave them a unique opportunity to limit the amount of time away from the classroom next year, after months of lost class time this year. Students have been learning from home, and some have still been going to school under strict guidelines. She noted that the two weeks is a “hardship” for families who need to find daycare or suffer lost income for an extra week at spring break.
While the vote was unanimous, both Maahs and Furgason used their trustee report time to expound on their prior rationale for trying to stop the arbitrator’s decision.
“I had sincerely hoped that the unions would change their position in light of the situation we are now faced with,” Maahs said. “Students missing months of school, families suffering terrible economic hardships, going into the unknown next spring, it is difficult for me to comprehend that this union would unswervingly, steadfastly continue down this path (of insisting on a paid two week spring break) with seemingly no compassion or regard for families and students in this district that will be hard pressed to take a week off work, if they’re lucky enough to still have a job, or have to pay an extra week of daycare.
She said she hoped “common sense would prevail.”
The pandemic began after the arbitration, she noted. She also issued an appeal to the union.
“It is actually not too late for the union to do the correct thing. Instead of wanting to simply win or prevail, how about putting aside this campaign, stop the threats and just do the right thing,” she said. “How can this union justify this action? Persisting down this path and only be construed as selfish. Are we all in this together or not? It’s time to do the right thing.”
On Wednesday, Maahs clarified she wasn’t speaking about teachers, but the union they belong to.
Also on Wednesday, Reichelt posted a statement on her Facebook regarding the comments made in the May 12 and previous meetings.
“Being partners in learning means that everyone in SD33 works together in a respectful way to ensure that every student is a graduate prepared for opportunities beyond graduation. This means trustees, parents, students, senior management, principals and vice principals, CTA members, CUPE members, non-unionized employees and even members of the wider Chilliwack community all have a part to play,” she wrote.
“It is very important to understand that alienating any of our partner groups is not in the best interest of children. Many of our partner groups have official reps that are the link between the wider group and the Board of Education. In the case of teachers, they elect a CTA executive; support staff elect a CUPE executive. The union executives represent their members and are their official voices. It is not possible for someone to say they support teachers and support workers while simultaneously disrespecting the CTA or CUPE.”
The recent discussions at the board table have also prompted the CTA to pass a non-confidence motion in the board, and to ask Rob Fleming, the ministor of education, to launch a special investigation into the board’s conduct.
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