Chilliwack School District office on Cessna Drive. (Progress file)

Chilliwack School District office on Cessna Drive. (Progress file)

OPINION: Chilliwack school board meeting deemed ‘public’ on the smallest of technicalities

Board chair vote was held in person but the media, DPAC and the CTA didn’t know they could attend

A five-minute long school board meeting this week has caused quite a stir.

I’ll admit at the outset that most of that stirring was caused by me alone, but I believe it was important.

Bear with me, I’ll explain.

Every year around this time, the Chilliwack Board of Education holds a vote among the trustees for board chair, vice-chair, and representatives to the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) and the B.C. School Trustees Association (BCSTA).

A special regular meeting was scheduled for Tuesday (Dec. 7) and was held at the board office. This part is important, because the school board has been holding public meetings via Zoom for over a year since the pandemic led to the need for physical distancing.

This meeting was held in person was because they use physical ballots for the vote.

Trustees Heather Maahs and Darrell Furgason sent their regrets and did not attend the meeting. Trustee Barry Neufeld just didn’t show up. (Why the three of them refused to participate in the election of board chair can be speculated upon but is a topic for another time and place.)

READ MORE: OPINION: Some say it’s time to fire the Chilliwack school board, but maybe that’s what some of them want

So those of us interested in such matters, you know, the media, parents, teachers, got ready to watch the livestream of the meeting using a link provided on the school district’s website. But the link didn’t work.

“No livestream due to technical difficulties,” was posted on the website as the meeting was taking place. (Or maybe after, since the whole thing took five minutes.)

I emailed superintendent Rohan Arul-pragasam to express disappointment that there was no livestream, and to ask who was elected to what positions.

With “the three” trustees who hold so much acrimony towards the remaining four absent, the election of board chair et cetera was extremely quick with no voting at all. The four nominated one another for the various positions and all were acclaimed.

That is, Trustee Jared Mumford was acclaimed as board chair and Trustee Willow Reichelt vice-chair. Trustee Carin Bondar is the representative to the BCPSEA with Mumford the alternate, and Trustee David Swankey hte BCSTA representative with Reichelt the alternate.

Mumford sent me the minutes of the meeting that ran from 3:05 p.m. to 3:10 p.m. later.

Nice and tidy. All done.

But wait, I was not allowed to watch the meeting online because of a technical difficulty. If a legally public meeting isn’t open to the public, is it legal?

I posted a long rant about this on Facebook that stirred up quite a discussion, saying in part, this meeting was essentially held in camera since no member of the public or media was invited or even allowed to attend or watch online.

The result may have been inevitable, but the public still should be allowed to see it. That’s the law, and it is not a trivial thing.

Both Reichelt and Mumford weighed in on the topic,

“It wasn’t intended to be secretive,” Reichelt commented, adding. “We possibly should have postponed it.”

Mumford and I had a discussion via direct message, he said he’d look into the legality of the meeting and call me Wednesday. He did call me and said that it was determined the meeting was legal because, technically (he didn’t use that word), members of the public could have attended.

Huh? Since when?

Pre-pandemic some members of the public would attend school board meetings, and there at least two important people at virtually every single meeting: a representative from the District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) and one from the Chilliwack Teachers’ Association (CTA).

I didn’t know I could have attended this 3 p.m. meeting held in person at the board office.

Did anyone at DPAC or the CTA? So I asked.

“DPAC was not aware of any board meetings open to the public and has not been invited to attend any in person,” DPAC chair Alicia Fleetham told me via email today. “We would certainly have a representative attend if the option were to become available as we have always practised in pre-COVID times.”

“We were not aware that we were able to attend the meeting in-person,” CTA president Danielle Bennett told me. “We understand that this was an in-person meeting due to issues around possible ballots and that other meetings of the Board are continuing to be held via Zoom. We are also aware that attempts were made to livestream the event and that all trustees were invited to attend the in-person meeting.”

So the media organization of record in Chilliwack that covers the school board didn’t know. The union representing teachers didn’t know. And the organization representing parents didn’t know.

If that’s not holding calling a meeting “public” on a technicality I don’t know what is.

At the end of the day, Mumford told me that he is concerned this pot stirring of mine may hang over his selection as board chair so they may hold the meeting again, this time in public for real.

Stay tuned.

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