A Chilliwack school trustee has launched a letter-writing campaign against a volunteer parent, calling her a political activist who has “joined voices with the radicals who are calling for my resignation.”
Trustee Barry Neufeld was writing about Justine Hodge, the chair of the District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC), who signed a letter agreed upon in an emergency meeting held by DPAC members that did call for his resignation. Several individuals and organizations had already done the same, including the Fraser Valley Labour Council, because of Neufeld’s staunch opposition to the rollout of a sexual orientation and gender identity teacher resource called SOGI 123.
Due to the controversy, Neufeld has stepped back from all committees, stopped working as a liaison in schools and has refused to comment on the subject to this newspaper. There are 10 months left in this term and he has announced he intends to run again.
The email from Neufeld was sent out Jan. 1, at 12:22 a.m. to an unknown number of recipients from his private email.
“I am writing to ask you to start off the New Year by helping me, please,” he starts. “I believe it is time to PUSH BACK!”
This email has resurfaced a handful of times from letter writers who have forwarded it onto Hodge with their letters supporting Neufeld. Those letters, totaling more than two dozen in 24 hours, included enough hate that Hodge called the RCMP to start a file.
One stated: “People are well aware of the left wing freak show along with the four eyed blue haired face pierced tatted up non-binary zurs that PRETEND to speak for all people. THEY DONT. The brainwashing from you LEFTWING WEIRDOS for the last 30 years IS OVER. My family and friend WILL FIGHT YOU on this and you will lose miserably.”
Hodge says Neufeld’s letter contains a lie about her — that she plans on running for school board. She says has no intention of doing so. Neufeld also paints her as a political opponent, “very activist… positioned herself to be in lock step with the BC Teacher’s Federation.”
He says that “Ms. Hodge is taking sides with only a handful of radical parents, and alienating the vast majority of parents who trust biology and common sense.”
He lists her email address for her DPAC chair role, and The Progress editor’s email.
“I ask that you take Ms. Hodge to task and challenge her opinions,” he wrote. “Remember that a public body like a School District must present all opinions and be inclusive of everyone. Ms. Hodge obviously wants to bar anyone with religious or common-sense scruples from engaging in debate. I firmly believe their opinions are also deserving of consideration and respect.”
In another portion of the letter he suggests most of the school Parent Advisory Councils “are not interested in political activism.”
“They are content to maintain communication with the School Principal and staff, organize fundraising events for items not included in Provincial funding, provide grants for worthy student projects, arrange photographs for school yearbooks, etc.”
However, according to the School Act the official role of a PAC, through its elected officers, is to advise the school board, the principal and staff of the school respecting any matter relating to the school. The PACs advice DPAC (each PAC has the opportunity to elect a member to DPAC). And the DPACs are the legislated parent voice at the school district level, representing the collective views of school PAC and advising the board of education on any matter relating to education in their school district.
The minutes from the emergency meeting will be accepted at the DPAC’s next monthly meeting, Jan. 25.
“It is concerning that Trustee Neufeld knows so little about DPAC’s purpose and processes,” Hodge says. “He has asked his supporters to target me personally and challenge my opinions, but my opinions on this or any matter are irrelevant. As Chair, I speak on behalf of the Council, I do not make decisions for the Council.”
While the school board chair Paul McManus has admonished Neufeld for continuing to post publicly against SOGI 123, this hasn’t seemed to stop him from starting this letter campaign. The letter states the he hopes to see the fight against gender identity equality in the classroom carry on in the future.
“Our Current Provincial government is very fragile. I do not think I am exaggerating when I believe that this gender controversy may bring down our current government” with SOGI as a part of a provincial platform, he says.
“I am not so presumptuous to think that I alone will rewrite the SOGI curriculum,” he adds. “Wiser and more informed persons than me are already working on it.”
He says he believes there are about 20 in Chilliwack with “gender dysphoria.”
“Not all of these parents subscribe to the unscientific gender-fluid theory that ‘what is between one’s legs is not always the same as what is between one’s ears.’… I do not ‘hate’ transgender children: They can’t help the way they feel. They should certainly NOT be bullied or teased. But I advocate for the least intrusive way of helping them: hopefully to accept the gender they were assigned at birth.”
Education minister Rob Fleming responded on Friday afternoon with a strong message of support for parents and students in Chilliwack.
“It is unfortunate that parents who are supporting SOGI 123 in Chilliwack are now becoming targets of hateful behaviour,” Fleming said in an email to The Progress.
“The Chilliwack Board of Education is the authority to determine the appropriate course of action if they deem their code of conduct has been broken by a fellow trustee.
“Under the School Act, the Minister only has the power to dismiss the entire board of education, and only in very specific circumstances. It’s disappointing that Mr. Neufeld is dedicating his time and efforts to promote his views instead of supporting some of our most vulnerable students.
“Students and parents should know that we are moving forward with SOGI 123 to ensure all students feel welcome in B.C.’s schools, regardless of who they identify as.”
Also in response, parents in Chilliwack have been posting messages of support for the Chilliwack DPAC executive members, who say they voted unanimously on the letter, and Hodge specifically.
“We are just so happy the DPAC stood up for what’s right and what’s best for our kids,” Leah Reimer said. “I’m so sorry that you’re being the one lied about Justine, you’re just doing your best. It’s too bad hate speaks so loudly.”
UPDATE: The BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils said Monday: “As the issue of SOGI has emerged at the forefront of divisive political debate in some districts, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we need to protect the dignity and safety of all BC students.
“Thank you Chilliwack DPAC for your district leadership.”