While B.C.’s education minister has directed the Chilliwack Board of Education to become more inclusive, some trustees are pushing back.
After years of issues with Trustee Barry Neufeld’s anti-LGBTQ statements specifically, and two other trustees who often side with him on contentious issues, back in December Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside appointed two special advisors to evaluate the board’s “commitment to a school system that is safe, inclusive and welcoming to all students and staff.”
The advisors’ report was delivered at the end of February, and while many called for the dismissal of the entire board, that didn’t happen. Instead, Whiteside directed the board to take a series of specific actions.
The minister directed the board to take a number of steps by Oct. 31, 2021, one among them included: “work with the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner to arrange and participate in training.”
But at Tuesday’s (May 11) school board meeting, Neufeld along with trustees Heather Maahs and Darrell Furgason rejected the idea.
On the agenda was a recommendation that the board direct staff to set aside $7,000, $1,000 from each trustee’s professional learning fund while costs for training from the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner were calculated.
“We are spending all this time on beating ourselves over the head over human rights,” Neufeld said speaking in opposition to funding the training. “Spending $7,000 on a politically correct type of training is out of this world.”
Trustee Carin Bondar pointed out why the move was needed.
“The reason we are being tasked with this training is that we have been ordered by the ministry to sort ourselves out,” she said.
Furgason tried to make an amendment to the motion to make it an optional expenditure of funds by each trustee, but that was defeated.
“To set aside $1,000 of my money by vote… is not in keeping, in my view, with the role of a trustee who has been elected to represent his community with the type of training he is going to take.”
Trustee David Swankey pointed out the money is not the possession of any trustee, but is public money until it is signed off on for specific training.
Maahs went the furthest in her opposition, first saying it was not in the jurisdiction of the board to vote on how funds are spent, then claiming that some members of the board could use human rights training, not for the reasons put forth by the education ministry, but because it is religious values that are at threat.
“I’m a little tired of people who I know that are religious being sidelined by this board,” Maahs said. She later had her microphone cut off by board chair Reichelt when she started: “Our politically correct, woke trustees have decided to grandstand…”
The recommendation was passed in a vote of four to three. After the vote, and before the rest of the meeting continued, both Maahs and Furgason logged off, each claiming to “feel unwell.”
Asked Wednesday if she thinks the board can adhere to the directives from the provincial government by the Oct. 31 deadline given the pushback from three trustees, Reichelt said that it is her understanding that the board needs to at least show significant progress on all the directives before October.
“Some of the items are long-term projects that cannot reasonably be expected to be completed within six months, but we should be well on our way,” she told The Progress.
“That being said, I do not believe that the Human Rights training is considered optional for trustees. It is expected that all trustees will participate, and most of us are enthusiastic about getting started.”
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