Chilliwack — In the wake of comments from controversial Chilliwack School Trustee Barry Neufeld on SOGI 123 policy, a recent heated school board by-election and a board that has been criticized as dysfunctional and divided, the Minister of Education wants better support for students.
In an edict issued on Tuesday, Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Education, is directing the Chilliwack Board of Education to take specific actions to create a safe, welcoming and inclusive school community for all students following the review of the board by special advisors.
On Dec. 22, 2020, the minister appointed special advisors Lynn Smith, QC, and Mike McKay to evaluate the Chilliwack Board of Education’s governance practices and commitment to student safety.
“All students deserve to feel their education needs and well-being are supported at school, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity or academic ability,” said Whiteside. “I appreciate the work of the special advisors and the co-operation of everyone who participated in their investigation, including trustees, district staff, parents, teachers and other elected officials to find a path forward to establish effective governance practices and create a welcoming environment for Chilliwack students.”
Chilliwack School Board Chair Willow Reichelt said to FVN in a statement: I welcome the report and recommendations, including the appointment of the Special Advisor. I look forward to working with the Board and partner groups to create a truly inclusive district.
From the Chilliwack Teachers’ Association: The Chilliwack Teachers’ Association Released Officers applaud the Minister of Education’s decision to direct the Chilliwack Board of Education to take specific actions to create a safe, welcoming and inclusive school community for all students. This direction follows the appointment of Special Advisors on December 22, 2020 to evaluate the Chilliwack Board of Education. “For three years, Chilliwack teachers have been calling for intervention by the Minister of Education,” states CTA President, Ed Klettke. “We are pleased with the recent announcement from Minister Whiteside and we are hopeful to see changes in the conduct of individual trustees and the functionality of the Board as a whole.” Klettke explained that the Chilliwack Board of Education has frequently been in the news for controversial statements made by several Trustees. “These comments dampen morale and put a bad light on our schools. This has affected teachers, students and the broader community in an extremely negative way.” This Ministerial order goes further than what we anticipated. The announcement includes six clearly defined steps required to be completed by October 31, 2021. The steps focus on the Board’s ability to govern effectively and on the provision of an inclusive and safe learning environment. “We welcome the involvement of local First Nations communities and the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner in this important work.” “It is wonderful to see the Education Minister take action that directs the Chilliwack School Board to address the concerns of teachers and the community. Chilliwack teachers are hopeful that these new directives will enable the Board to conduct their work in a manner that is respectful to all partner groups.” The CTA Released Officers appreciate the work of the Minister and the Special Advisors. Klettke states, “The CTA Released Officers look forward to continued involvement in the creation of safe, welcoming, and inclusive school environments.”
The special advisors identified concerns about the board’s ability to adhere to principles of good governance and ethical, civil and co-operative trustee behaviour. This has resulted in a negative impact on the board’s ability to govern and on senior school district staff’s ability to support student success.
“Elected trustees should model the conduct and approaches the school system expects to see in its students and its graduates, including respect for human rights, empathy for others, and rational and evidence-based decision-making,” Whiteside said. “Based on the special advisors’ findings, I have concerns about the board’s ability to fully support students and function effectively as a governing body.”
The minister has directed the board to take the following steps by Oct. 31, 2021:
- review and revise its policies and codes of conduct for students to ensure they promote a safe, welcoming and inclusive school environment;
- establish a plan for enhancing student achievement, with a focus on inclusive education, children and youth in care, and Indigenous students;
- develop a policy regarding inclusive board practices after considering input from the school community;
- review and revise its Code of Ethics for Trustees after obtaining and considering input from the school community;
- work with the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner to arrange and participate in training; and
- collaborate with local First Nations to develop policies and procedures that allow for meaningful engagement with Indigenous community members.
To demonstrate progress on these expectations, the board will submit reports on June 30 and Oct. 31, 2021, updating the minister on the status of addressing her concerns.
McKay, who has served in multiple roles in B.C.’s education sector including as principal, superintendent, official trustee and special advisor, will continue in his role as advisor to support the board and evaluate its progress in meeting the expectations the minister has set.
The board’s reports will be reviewed as they are submitted to determine if further action is required.
The minister has directed ministry staff to identify potential legislative and regulatory changes that would ensure the actions of elected trustees support safe and inclusive schools for students and staff. This review is ongoing.