Chilliwack’s new school board was sworn in Tuesday evening and while the divisiveness of the election was not unaddressed directly at the meeting, the conflict reared its head indirectly.
The inauguration followed a tumultuous election campaign where an anti-bullying resource designed to protect LGBTQ students was strongly opposed by a slate of candidates with an admitted religious focus led by incumbent Barry Neufeld.
Neufeld along with fellow anti-SOGI 123 candidates Darrell Furgason and incumbent Heather Maahs were elected to the board.
The election culminated in an expensive and lengthy recount caused by fellow anti-SOGI 123 candidate Kaethe Jones who lost the last seat on the board to Jared Mumford.
On the other side of the SOGI 123 debate were a number of progressive candidates in favour of the anti-bullying resource. Elected was incumbent Dan Coulter, along with Mumford, Willow Reichelt and David Swankey.
The meeting Tuesday, which lasted less than 20 minutes, involved electing a board chair, vice-chair, in addition to representatives to the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) and the B.C. School Trustees Association (BCSTA).
With the board split along distinct four-three lines, it was unsurprising to most watching that Coulter was nominated and then acclaimed as chair of the board.
Coulter then called for nominations for vice-chair. Neufeld nominated Maahs, and Swankey nominated Reichelt. Both accepted their nominations and spoke briefly to why they felt they should be elected.
Maahs suggested that having her and Coulter as chair and vice-chair made sense given the experience they both have, and she alluded to the divisiveness in the election suggesting that since voters chose her and Neufeld and Furgason, the board leadership should represent that diversity of views.
“I think in view of the results after the election,” Maahs said. “I think the voters spoke in who they elected to the board and I think that it would be in the best interests of this board to look towards a really good working relationship having myself and you [Coulter] as the chair and vice-chair.”
Reichelt countered that she should be elected, again alluding to the SOGI 123 discussion pointing also to her experience as a student, parent and teacher in the Chilliwack school district.
“I also think it’s very important in the current environment to send a strong message that we have an inclusive board so therefore I think I’m a better choice as board vice-chair,” she said.
Reichelt was elected.
After that, was nominations for BCPSEA and another vote ensued.
Neufeld nominated Maahs, while Coulter nominated Mumford, and Mumford was chosen. Maahs was then acclaimed as the alternate, again nominated by Neufeld.
Then came the final position, the board’s representative to the BCSTA. Mumford nominated Swankey and he was acclaimed. At that point, the progressive foursome ran out of names, and Neufeld put forward Furgason as the BCSTA alternate. He was acclaimed.