The Chilliwack School Board voted to pare down question period during their Feb. 26 meeting. (Jessica Peters/ The Progress)

Question period pared down at Chilliwack school board meetings

School trustees vote to eliminate open question period, shift focus to other forms of communication

The free-for-all question periods at Chilliwack School Board meetings have now been curtailed.

Trustees voted to pare down question period at their meeting Tuesday night, eliminating the first public participation portion of their meetings and firming up rules for the second one.

For many years, the public could pose questions about anything related to the school district at the opening of the meeting, with some rules regarding naming specific students, staff or trustees. A second participation time at the end of the meetings was to pertain to the agenda only.

After Tuesday’s vote, for which two trustees were absent, there will now only be the final question period. There is no longer a chance to ask wide-ranging questions of the board on record.

But the decision to end the first question period, and vote with Trustees Heather Maahs and Barry Neufeld away, did not sit well with Trustee Darrell Furgason. He ended up abstaining from the vote, saying he hadn’t had enough time to read the document’s wording as he’d been on holiday. The item had been made public on Feb. 8 as it was to be a part of the Feb. 12 meeting, which was then cancelled due to extreme weather.

All trustees were present for a previous committee of the whole meeting where the wording for the policy changes were hashed out, noted board chair Trustee Dan Coulter, although amendments were made during the meeting on Tuesday.

The Chilliwack school board question period has been a busy, sometimes chaotic event, as people for and against new teaching resources have come in droves. They had become a place of political divisiveness, while they are intended to be a business meeting.

Now, the revised policy states: “The public Board meeting is the formally designated means of transacting Board business. One public participation period is therefore provided solely as a means for ensuring that community members who are present in the audience have an opportunity to ask questions about business or issues pertaining to the Board.”

“You don’t need rules until you need them,” Coulter said during the meeting. There were reminders that the public can continue to connect with trustees and staff through email, phone calls and visits to the board office.

Other recent changes include requiring visitors in the gallery to fill out a sign-in sheet upon entering. And answers to questions that can’t be provided at a meeting are provided at the following meeting in writing.

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