After a few meetings of relative calm, the new-look Chilliwack school board dove back into familiar controversy on Tuesday (Feb. 7).
With the approval of a revamped learning resources policy (i.e. library books) on the agenda, the gallery was packed with people wanting to weigh in. A handful addressed the board at the start of the meeting, including former trustee Darrell Furgason. He took a well-worn path when he asked superintendent Rohan Arul-pragasm about whether he was aware of sexually explicit books in Chilliwack schools and whether the district has legal grounds to provide these materials.
Furgason has long contended that some books in Chilliwack school libraries meet the definition of child pornography. The same conversation dominated the final year Furgason sat on the school board before being voted out in last year’s municipal election, and Reichelt shut it down.
“We’re not doing this. There’s no illegal materials in our schools and it’s highly defamatory,” she told Furgason as she shut off his mic. “It’s not a thing that is happening.”
When Furgason tried to continue, Reichelt asked him to leave and briefly adjourned the meeting.
When they returned, the board dove into an official discussion about policy 380, the new learning resources policy.
David Swankey led the 12-member education member advisory committee that produced the policy. The commitee included Reichelt and fellow trustee Teri Westerby, Sardis Secondary student Claire Pinckney, Indigenous Education advisor Loren Muth and SD33’s Niki Wiens along with members of the Chilliwack Teachers Association, Chilliwack Principals and Vice Principals Association and District Parents Advisory Committee (DPAC).
“Any changes, any input, was done by consensus of the committee and the policy was referred by unanimous consent without any concern or dissenting voices from the partners represented at the policy working table,” Swankey said.
Among the lines in the policy, this might have been the most likely to catch the eye of someone concerned about library books.
“The principles of freedom of to read/listen/view must be protected for students. TLs (teacher librarians) will support reading choice for students. Families who wish students not to read certain topics can have those discussions at home, but it is not the role of the TL to censor choices at the circulation desk.”
Also, “No parent/guardian/caregiver or groups of parents/guardians/caregivers has the right to determine reading, viewing or listening materials for students other than their own.”
Trustee Richard Procee asked if parents had any say in whether sexually explicit material was available to their child, and he was told that policy 380 includes a mechanism to challenge reading materials through a ‘reconsideration committee.’
Trustee Heather Maahs urged the board to vote against the policy, saying the challenge process was an onerous and long process.
“It is difficult to negotiate that,” she said.
When she brought up the Canadian criminal code, heading down the same road Furgason took earlier, Reichelt cut off her mic and the policy was put to a vote.
“I think this strikes the right balance and puts education in the hands of education professionals, which is where it should be,” Reichelt noted.
The policy passed by a 5-2 count, with Maahs and Procee opposed.