Chilliwack teachers have passed a motion of non-confidence in the school board.
This follows a months-long disagreement about next year’s school calendar. Due to conflict early in the calender creation process, an arbitrator was brought in as per the Collective Agreement. But the Chilliwack Board of Education has now rejected that binding arbitration twice.
The issue is over a one-week vs. a two-week spring break. Three trustees say they believe the break should be short, to help mitigate the impact that COVID-19 has had on classroom time. However, the disagreement over the calendar pre-dates the closure of schools in B.C.
The CTA held a special regular meeting to discuss the matter on Monday afternoon (May 4) and issued a press release the next day.
“The motion of non-confidence was based on the actions of the board in regards to rejecting an arbitration decision on the 2020-2021 school calendar as well as the apparent inability of board members to work together for the good of Chilliwack students,” it states.
The arbitrator’s decision — which was in favour of the calendar submitted by teachers — was given to the district on Feb. 28, and there was a two-week time frame for appeal. The board missed the date to appeal and has discussed the issue twice now in public meetings. Two trustees have chosen to leave the discussion as their spouses are teachers, leaving the board with just five voting members.
“On two separate occasions, the Chilliwack Board of Education voted to reject a binding arbitrator’s decision about the school calendar,” said Klettke. “It’s a bizarre move with no legal basis and may actually contravene BC’s Labour Code. On this issue, a voting majority of the board has chosen to ignore a binding decision. The result of this could become an expensive and frivolous legal battle.”
The trustees voting against the arbitration are Heather Maahs, Barry Neufeld and Darrell Furgason.
This arbitration decision originated from a grievance settlement between the Chilliwack School District and the CTA in March 2019 that created a process for discussions around the school calendar, Klettke explains. The CTA, School District 33, BC Public School Employers’ Association, and BCTF agreed that an arbitrator would render a final decision should the parties be unable to come to an agreement. This process was undertaken in February 2020 and the arbitrator made a binding decision that included a two-week spring break.
Klettke added that the board’s decision to reject the arbitration twice “appeared to be based on a lack of understanding of the process of negotiating the calendar and of the legal ramifications of their decision.”
He believes they may have contravened the Labour Code.
“In other words, we believe they are ignoring the law. As elected officials, the board has a job to do and their willingness to ignore an arbitrator’s decision brings into question their ability to properly do their job.”
Klettke explained that teachers are also concerned by controversial comments made by three trustees during discussions on the naming of two new Chilliwack schools.
“Lively debate is one thing, but making ignorant and offensive statements as an elected official is very inappropriate,” said Klettke. “During discussions around the naming of two new schools, members of the board made statements that were hurtful to teachers, parents, and students within the community. These statements went against all of the work our Chilliwack education community is trying to do to honour and act on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.”
Klettke explained that not all members of the board supported the offensive comments, and the board made the correct decision in approving the names of the two new schools, but there was considerable arguing and antagonism between board members.
“This dysfunction has been evident at many board meetings over the past two years and gives the impression that the Chilliwack Board of Education is unable to work together as a cohesive unit for the good of the Chilliwack School District.”
The CTA also says this is not the time for bickering on a board.
“This is an unusual time for all communities amid COVID-19 and we want to focus on the health and safety of our school community, the provision of services to children of essential support workers, additional support for vulnerable families and students and the continuity of learning for all Chilliwack students.”
They say the board is “continually sidetracked by other issues that damage relationships with teachers, students and parents. The CTA no longer has confidence that ‘partners in learning’ applies in this district at this time.”
The CTA issued a similar notice back in January 2018, amid the controversy around Sexual Orientation Gender Identity initiative, and comments made by Trustee Barry Neufeld.