Halloween could be extra scary this year for Chilliwack school board trustees who face an Oct. 31 deadline from the Ministry of Education to get their act together.
Back in April, Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside handed the board several tasks to be completed by the end of this month. The order came after special advisors appointed in December 2020 completed an evaluation of “the board’s commitment to a school system that is safe, inclusive and welcoming to all students and staff.”
That appointment was the culmination of years of controversy starting with Trustee Barry Neufeld’s outspoken opposition to an LGBTQ+ anti-bullying school resource known as SOGI 123.
Special advisors Lynn Smith, QC, and former Surrey school superintendent Mike McKay handed in their report to Whiteside in February, after which (and before) several people called for the dismissal of the entire school board.
There is no legislated ability for the provincial government to have just one trustee removed, but there is precedent for firing an entire board. In 2016, then education minister Mike Bernier fired all nine elected Vancouver school board trustees after they failed to balance their budget, a legal requirement of all school boards.
Instead of firing the board, Whiteside released a statement on April 6 saying that the board “must take action to better support students.”
She directed the Chilliwack Board of Education “to take specific actions to create a safe, welcoming and inclusive school community for all students following the review of the board by special advisors.”
Those actions include: reviewing and revising policies and codes of conduct for students; establishing a plan for student achievement focusing on inclusive education, children and youth in care, and Indigenous students; developing a policy regarding inclusive board practices; reviewing and revising its own Code of Ethics; working with the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner to participate in training; and collaborating with local First Nations to develop policies and procedures that allow for meaningful engagement with Indigenous community members.
“Elected trustees should model the conduct and approaches the school system expects to see in its students and its graduates, including respect for human rights, empathy for others, and rational and evidence-based decision-making,” Whiteside said. “Based on the special advisors’ findings, I have concerns about the board’s ability to fully support students and function effectively as a governing body.”
Back in April, board chair Trustee Willow Reichelt welcomed the orders from the education minister.
“I am hopeful that all members of the board will take this process seriously and will work with our partners in education to ensure that all students in our district feel safe, included and excited about learning,” she said.
– with files from Jessica Peters
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