Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld at the Oct. 2 board meeting asking to have $4,000 in expenses repaid for a trip he took to a psychiatric conference in Prague in the summer. The board voted 5-to-2 to deny his request. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld at the Oct. 2 board meeting asking to have $4,000 in expenses repaid for a trip he took to a psychiatric conference in Prague in the summer. The board voted 5-to-2 to deny his request. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

Chilliwack school board denies trustee’s $4,000 reimbursement request for Prague trip

Barry Neufeld attended psychiatric conference in Europe in July; board votes 5-2 against pay back

Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld hasn’t done much for the district over the last year since he stepped back from school liaison duties due to his ongoing and controversial statements about the LGBTQ community, but he did attend a conference in Prague in the summer that he thinks taxpayers should pay for.

“I worked very hard and I came back with enough information for a 30-page report, which I haven’t brought with me tonight, but I believe I’m entitled to this conference, being reimbursed for it,” Neufeld said at the Oct. 2 school board meeting.

He spoke to his own motion for reimbursement, which was seconded by Trustee Heather Maahs, that the board of education approve his professional development expenses totalling $4,027.97 for his summer trip to Europe.

But while Maahs defended Neufeld’s request, the other five trustees called it, alternately, bad optics, irrelevant, nonsensical and unsupportable.

“The optics, with due respect Barry, just don’t work for me,” Trustee Walt Krahn said in part. “I cannot support a trustee going to a psychiatric conference.”

The conference he attended in July was the 23rd International Congress of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professionals. Neufeld said the conference was not open to everyone, but because of his level of education and his career working with at-risk adolescents, he was accepted.

Neufeld has been a controversial figure over the last year for his vociferous opposition to the Ministry of Education’s SOGI 123 teaching resource designed as an anti-bullying tool to help LGBTQ youth in the classroom. Some of the workshops and speeches Neufeld said he attended in Prague touched on this subject to varying degrees, among the titles: sex vs. gender; LGBT youth; self-harm and suicidal behaviour in adolescents.

(See below for Neufeld’s full letter from Sept. 14, 2018 to the board asking for the reimbursement.)

• RELATED: Teachers’ union says SOGI 123 debate by Chilliwack trustee candidates is irrelevant

“I learned a lot and one thing the public might be interested to know is that I changed my position somewhat based on what I learned,” Neufeld told the board.

Part of the problem for the rest of the board, however, is that he shared none of what he gleaned with the rest of the board.

“Professional development must be considered as a value to the entire board and as an elected official as a value to the entire community,” board chair Paul McManus said, adding that as chair he is responsible for signing off on expenses, something McManus did not do.

Trustee Bob Patterson said he viewed the matter in terms of his own perspective, and would he do what Neufeld did.

“We are using school district funds or funds that are from the community,” Patterson said. “To dish out $4,000, that doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

“I really question the relevance of a psychiatric conference to do work of a trustee,” Trustee Dan Coulter added. “That isn’t what we do. We aren’t psychiatrists.”

Trustee Silvia Dyck said she struggled with the issue, wondering if it was unfair to interfere with professional development. But Dyck did find it an odd time to go, in the summer, and an “extreme” place to go, in addition to the matter of Neufeld not reporting on return.

“When you go to this kind of a conference, it would have been helpful to have a report to find out, ‘This is what I learned,’” she said.

Both Maahs and Neufeld argued that the board’s decision flew in the face of the current expense policy, and both directly and indirectly implied it was political.

“You are trying to embarrass me in front of the public to make me out to be a spendthrift,” Neufeld said.

“I have to question the motivation of what is really going on here,” Maahs said, something she did not clarify until after the meeting.

“Tonight was dirty,” Maahs said in a Tweet to this reporter, adding in a follow-up that if she spilled the beans over what happened during an in camera meeting “a few months back,” which she legally cannot, it would prove it.

“You trust me when I say you can go to the bank with dirt done last night,” Maahs wrote on Twitter the day after the meeting.

• RELATED: Chilliwack city councillor’s expenses the subject of FOI request by mayor

Barry Neufeld’s Sept. 14 letter to the board:

TO: Chilliwack Board of Education

Explanation of Travel Expenses:

I applied to attend the 23rd International Congress of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions July 23-27, 2018. This conference was not open to everyone. I was accepted based on my level of education, a career working with at-risk adolescents and my role in the governance of public education. The Conference was in Prague, Czech Republic Europe. Everything was in English.

Since I had been accused of basing my opinions about the BC’s controversial new learning resources on outdated, untrustworthy sources, I wanted to be abreast of the latest research, as well as the many other special needs of children and adolescents

The invoice from Expedia was only for the Airfare. They also reserved a rental car for me, which I paid for separately. I did not claim any car rental or transportation to or from the airport.

I arrived prior to the weekend to adjust to Jet lag. Since the flight was long, the airline supplied meals. I only claimed meals while I was attending the conference. I did not charge for expenses over the weekend.

The conference began Monday at the Congress Centre adjacent to the Holiday Inn, Prague. It began every day at 8:00 AM and continued with 1 1/2 hour workshops until 6:15 PM. I worked hard!

It was all very relevant to a School Trustee interested in Special Needs education. There were over 1500 delegates from all over the world, with hundreds of workshops and lectures. Here is a list of workshops and Plenary Speeches I attended.

• Deliberate self-harm and suicide in Youth: Reviewing the Evidence and a pragmatic approach to estimating Risk

• Planning the future of child and adolescent psychiatry

• Frequently asked questions at Nationwide child protection hotlines for medical professionals in the Netherlands

• Education and School Mental health

• Risk and resilience in children born to parents with severe mental illness

• Overlap between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Autism spectrum disorders

• Sex vs gender: Identity, dysphoria, non-conformity and diversity of sexual development in childhood and adolescence

• Autism II

• A Cross-cultural perspective of stigma and attitudes toward children’s mental health from three continents.

• Synchrony and the neurobiology of human attachments: Trajectories of well-being and psychopathology from infancy to adolescence

• LGBT Youth

• Self-harm and suicidal behavior in adolescents

• Internet and social media

• Mindfulness

• Internet gaming disorder and other problematic Internet use in child and adolescent psychiatry

• Diversifying our understanding of ADHD: Beyond Stimulants and school troubles.

• The persistent impact of being bullied during childhood and adolescence: Implications of policy and practice.

• International treatment models for challenging behaviors in autism spectrum disorders

• How to understand adolescents with Asperger syndrome: a clinical account and observations over 17 years

• Mood disorders in children and adolescents: where have we been and where are we going?

• School-based mental health promotion

• Promoting resilience

• Training courses for educational assistants as a contribution to fulfil UN convention on the rights of persons with Disabilities.

• Population neuroscience of the adolescent brain: Observing to change

• What differences in studies of cross cultural approaches to gender dysphoric adolescents can and cannot teach us about best practices?

• Solving the puzzle of autism: How far have we come?

The conference ended Friday afternoon. I checked out of the hotel and spent some time with relatives over the weekend at my own expense. The only flights back to Canada left early in the morning, so I booked an inexpensive hotel near the airport that had shuttle service. However, when I arrived in Vancouver I was far too exhausted to drive back to Chilliwack during rush hour, so I stayed overnight with my son. I had breakfast and drove home very early Aug 1.

As of June 6, I had accumulated $4,418.54 in my Professional Development account. This conference cost $4027.97. I sincerely believe that according to our policy I am entitled to this.

Please consider reimbursing me for these expenses.

Barry Neufeld Sept 14, 2018


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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