The public can now tune into the Chilliwack School Board meetings on Youtube, either as a livestream or an archived video. (Youtube)

Column: Fireworks not the only reason to tune into school board meetings

Chilliwack trustees take step to be more transparent just as discussions around table heat up

Grab the popcorn and clear your Tuesday evening schedule, there’s a new show in town.

The Chilliwack School Board livestreamed Youtube channel kicked off on Oct. 17, their most recent meeting. It took years of discussion, constant prodding by Trustee Heather Maahs, fiddling with wording, arguing about costs and debating the style of delivery. But it’s finally here.

The board is communicating with the public in a major way with this move, and it’s worth a watch. It was a strange coincidence that the first broadcasted meeting was so dramatic. Dozens of parents filled the chairs, lined the walls around the board table and milled about in the lobby where a television screen relayed the meeting from the next room.

It was an incredible show of force. They were there to voice concerns over the redrawing of catchment boundaries, a change many of them felt would cause stress and even danger to their children. Also unusual was that almost all of the two-hour meeting was dedicated to this specific discussion.

I can tell you, this is all highly unusual. It’s also incredibly exciting. I’ve been covering the local board meetings and education in general here since late 2014. Prior to that, I covered the Fraser Cascade district for about seven years. In all of that time, the only meeting I can recall that was standing-room only was one to fight the closure of a Hope school. Despite an emotional meeting that included some teachers in tears, the closure went ahead anyway.

School board meetings aren’t always full of these fireworks. But just like the last one, the next few will surely be worth tuning into.

There is the aforementioned-boundary change issue, and the related issue of reconfiguration (moving middle school down to a Grade 6 through 8 model). And of course, there is sure to be discussion of the sex orientation and gender identity (SOGI) policies in the school district, after Trustee Barry Neufeld kicked that particular hornets nest a few weeks back.

That prompted a backlash from many, drew supporters out of the woodwork, and lead to Neufeld issuing an apology of sorts. In response, the district published clarification on their SOGI policy, in full support of the B.C.-wide curriculum.

So you can bet that discussion is far from over.

Then there are the now-perennial problems around over-capacity schools, along with the usual budget updates and housekeeping items. Sure, every now and then someone tells a joke, or throws a barb across the table, or says something incredibly stupid. They are human, after all. But as time goes on, it’s important to remember that everything that the board discusses affects our students, our future.

It matters when the board approves a budget, or gives the go-ahead for a study. It matters when a teacher steps to the podium to tell the board about her underfunded but well-loved program. It matters when a board member stands up for what he or she believes in. It matters when parents, teachers, students and staff show up to voice their concerns.

And as we inch toward municipal and school elections (Oct. 20, 2018), it’s becoming increasing clear that it matters who is making these big decisions, and why, and how.

Of course, some trustees have suggested that nobody would want to watch; that their meetings are too boring. Well, the current view count on the last meeting is well over 700.

No matter if you agree with the board’s decisions or not, the fact that they worked for years with district staff to bring these discussions directly into people’s homes should be respected by all. It’s a good, fresh start to a new way of communicating with the public — openly, transparently and firmly in the digital age.

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