A Chilliwack school trustee admitted she lost her temper at a meeting on Tuesday night, when discussions turned toward school dress codes.
Trustee Heather Maahs wrote on her public trustee page following the meeting, “I’m disappointed in myself tonight because I lost my cool.” She was arguing against a proposed district-wide dress code policy put forward by fellow trustee Willow Reichelt. The code would essentially be less restrictive than the ones put in place at each school, and put a focus on student expression and family choices in clothing.
Maahs listed off several reasons for voting against the motion throughout the discussion. Firstly, she stated it wasn’t board policy to have trustees write policies alone. Assistant Superintendent Rohan Arul-Pragasam sent an email out to all trustees following the meeting that Reichelt did nothing wrong.
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Maahs also called the potential policy “micro-managing” and said she trusted “boots on the ground” to make decisions about clothing.
Reichelt countered that she was attempting to bring up a needed discussion regarding school dress codes, and was open to amendments. Several amendments were suggested and the policy was eventually voted for in theory, after being sent to the Educational Policy Advisory Committee (EPAC) for input and recommendations. The vote was 4-3, with Trustees Maahs, Barry Neufeld and Darrell Furgason voting against it. Trustees Reichelt, David Swankey, Dan Coulter and Jared Mumford voted in favour of it, with several of them noting that EPAC was the proper place for discussions.
EPAC is a committee comprising representatives from across the education spectrum, including representative students, parents, teachers, administration and the public.
Arul-Pragasam said the policy would go there, where consultation among those groups could happen. Then, he said, it will either die there or be sent from EPAC back to the board table for further discussion.
The board was strictly divided on thoughts on students’ clothing, and some trustees made claims that others were pushing an “ideology.”
“I do believe modesty is important,” Furgason said, but he said girls’ clothing causes distraction to boys and the onus is on them to dress modestly.
“I think that’s wisdom for not causing distraction,” he said. “Not wearing revealing clothing is just wisdom.”
Furgason also said in his years as a teacher he would find it distracting to be sitting across from a girl who was “immodestly” dressed.
Neufeld said he did agree with sending the policy off to EPAC, but voted against it because he didn’t agree with some of the wording created by Reichelt. Reichelt noted that she did not write the policy from scratch, and that is almost identical to a dress code policy in place in Victoria.
Still, he called it a reflection of “her worldview,” and said it was too prescriptive for EPAC to start out with.
Maahs eventually became very emotional during the discussion, and snapped at Reichelt for smiling at one point.
“This is not funny,” Maahs said.
She added that there are “pimps” at Chilliwack middle school preying on girls who wear revealing clothing, and “looking for the wrong kind of attention.”
“There are predators out there who are looking for students who are vulnerable,” Maahs said, and that restrictions like not showing bra straps protects students from potential harm.
In Maahs’ public post after the meeting, she seemed to contravene a board policy (205) on a trustee’s code of ethics. That policy states that trustees are not to speak on matters of the board “make no disparaging remarks, in or out of the Board meetings, about other members of the Board or their opinions.”
But in her post, she called those who voted to send the policy to EPAC “idealogues” and suggested those trustees may “stack the committee.”
“It is ideological and is aimed at taking restrictions off dress codes that she, and the other three CTA union endorsed trustees consider ‘discriminatory.’ This community needs to understand what has happened tonight. These four ideologues have just decided that they know what’s in the best interests of the students over and above all those who work with them,” she wrote.
In the public participation portion of the meeting, Meghan Reid and her daughter Charlotte spoke at the podium. Reid pointed her daughter’s modest outfit of a tank top, a heavy sweater, and jeans.
“She’s been dress-coded in this outfit,” Reid said, because a small portion of her bra strap was showing. Reid, a former PAC executive and a member of five PACs over the years, told the board that parents are not currently involved in the creation or amendments of the school-based dress codes.
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