MLA Jennifer Whiteside is B.C.’s new minister of education. She has now appointed two special advisors to evaluate the Chilliwack school board. (Black Press)

MLA Jennifer Whiteside is B.C.’s new minister of education. She has now appointed two special advisors to evaluate the Chilliwack school board. (Black Press)

Special advisors appointed to evaluate Chilliwack school board

Minister of Education also starting review of the province’s school act

Two special advisors have been appointed to evaluate the Chilliwack school board.

Jennifer Whiteside, minister of education, announced Tuesday that she has appointed Lynn Smith, QC, and former Surrey school superintendent Mike McKay. They will act as special advisors to evaluate the board’s “commitment to a school system that is safe, inclusive and welcoming to all students and staff.”

Whiteside has also directed ministry staff to immediately begin a review of the School Act. They will be considering changes that ensure the actions of elected trustees support safe and inclusive schools for students and staff.

Several groups had asked for the removal of either Trustee Barry Neufeld, or the entire board as a whole. Others asked Whiteside to review the School Act and its lack of a recall process. Whiteside, and her predecessor Rob Fleming, have both publicly asked Neufeld to resign.

READ MORE: B.C. Education minister, Chilliwack-Kent MLA-elect call for Neufeld to step down

The School Act enables the minister of education to appoint special advisors to review the affairs, performance, and/or other matters of a board of education. Government can also replace an entire board with an official trustee. That trustee would be in place until the next election, currently set for the fall of 2022.

“The well-being of students and staff in our education system is my highest priority and must be the highest priority of school trustees as well,” Whiteside said. “That is why I am taking immediate action to ensure the decision-making of all trustees at the Chilliwack Board of Education support student achievement and wellness, and that all trustees are adhering to the board’s code of conduct.”

As special advisors, Smith and McKay will review the following and report to the minister:

– the board’s ability to work co-operatively to fulfil its duties;

– the board’s ability to provide a safe, welcoming and inclusive school community for all students and staff, regardless of their background, ability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression;

– the extent that actions of trustees in their role are consistent with the human rights of students and staff;

– the adherence of trustees to the board’s code of ethics; and

– the board’s relationship with members of the school community and the effects of these matters on student achievement in Chilliwack.

Chilliwack school board chair Willow Reichelt told The Progress she is happy with the development.

“I welcome the review, and I look forward to the Special Advisors’ reports,” she said.

Whiteside said both appointees “have strong and complementary skills that will support their evaluation of the board.”

McKay served in multiple roles in the B.C. school system, including as principal, superintendent, official trustee and special advisor. Smith served as a justice of the B.C. Supreme Court for 14 years and earlier as professor and dean at the University of British Columbia faculty of law. Two of her areas of specialty have been the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and human rights law.

They will work in partnership to submit bi-weekly progress updates to the minister and provide a final report after their review is complete.

Under the School Act, special advisors may enter schools and district offices, and can inspect board records. The board and its employees must assist the special advisors in carrying out their duties.

The appointment of the special advisors begins immediately. Their review will be complete on or before Feb. 28, 2021.

READ MORE: Chilliwack teachers respond to trustee’s ableist slurs


@CHWKcommunity
jpeters@theprogress.com

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