More than 400 people gathered for an inclusion rally in support of sexual orientation and gender identity policies in B.C. schools outside a Chilliwack school board meeting in November. (Greg Laychak/ Progress file)

Chilliwack school board chair blasts Neufeld over continued Facebook posts

McManus: ‘He is creating anxiety and concern amongst trustees, staff, parents and students’

Chilliwack’s school board chair has released a public statement chastising a fellow trustee for comments he’s made on social media about a provincially-used teacher resource, and transgender people in general.

Trustee Paul McManus spoke out on Tuesday afternoon, sending a letter to The Progress via email, in which he says he cannot stay silent on the topic any longer. He was referring to the ongoing saga of Chilliwack Barry Neufeld, who has spoken against the use of the SOGI 123 teacher resource, spoken as a guest speaker for a group called Culture Guard, has had to step down from his regular trustee duties due to conflicts, and has had numerous educational bodies calling for his voluntary resignation. He has used his Facebook page numerous times to post lengthy comments against sexual orientation and gender identity policies.

Most recently, he said he was prophesying that the government would soon (if not already) be apprehending children and putting them in homes to explore their homosexuality.

READ: Chilliwack school trustee calls himself a prophet

He has refused to resign, and has said multiple times he intends to run for re-election in October 2018. He has been a school trustee in Chilliwack for about 20 years and is also a deacon of an Orthodox church.

McManus wrote in his letter that he is disappointed Neufeld “has chosen to utilize social media once again to make his personal views public.”

“According to Board Policy 204, Governance Principles, ‘The Board is a corporate board and speaks with one voice.’ Trustee Neufeld appears to believe that this policy does not apply to him. Through his extensive public statements on social media, including 18 Facebook posts so far this month that relate to the LGBTQ and transgender community, he has made it clear that having discussions with fellow trustees, in the appropriate setting, which the Board has planned for early in the new year, is not a priority and of no interest to him. By continuing to make his views known through social media, he is creating anxiety and concern amongst trustees, staff, parents and students. He is therefore no longer deserving of my silence on these issues.”

At a previous board meeting, McManus tried to allay fears of the public during question period by saying the board would be discussing the subject in the future, as set out in the plan by superintendent Evelyn Novak. He did not address the content of Neufeld’s previous comments, such as calling parents of supported transgender children child abusers. That changed with Tuesday’s letter.

“An elected official should not make public comments or statements that are offensive to any group. Trustee Neufeld has made numerous comments that have offended many of our students, staff, and parents, with some of his comments being referred to as hate speech and fear mongering. As a result some students and staff are now feeling unsafe in their school environment. This is unacceptable and completely inappropriate.

“While Trustee Neufeld has voluntarily stepped away from his school liaison duties, as well as committee work that involves staff and students, he has made it clear that he intends to run again in the 2018 municipal elections. Given his latest statements on social media, it is questionable as to how he expects to perform his duties as a School Trustee, now or in the future.

“I anticipate having another conversation very soon with Rob Fleming, the Minister of Education, about our Board and these issues. I am hopeful that our Board of Trustees can refocus on the responsibilities that we have been tasked to do, most notably student achievement, and all factors that impact it.”

The Chilliwack School Board indeed had not discussed SOGI issues at all as a board until it was addressed by Neufeld on his own Facebook in a public post in October. That set off a firestorm, combined of backlash and support. The group called Culture Guard came to Chilliwack from Surrey to hold a rally against SOGI, and some 450 people attended, with a small contingent of protesters outside. The following week, about 450 showed up to the regular school board meeting for an inclusion rally for SOGI, filling the streets outside the school board. Likewise, a handful of protesters showed up for that event.

The next school board meeting is to be held on January 16.

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