The Chilliwack Board of Education has been directed by B.C.’s education minister to create “a safe, welcoming and inclusive school community for all students.”
The directive comes after two special advisors spent months delving into the board’s history and recent actions. Their report to the minister, Jennifer Whiteside, was delivered in late February.
Whiteside addressed the report this week, and included six steps that the board needs to take by Oct. 31, 2021. They also will have to submit a progress report in June, and will still have a special advisor supporting and evaluating them.
The board is being asked to:
– 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.
Whiteside’s recommendations are being applauded by both the Chilliwack Teachers’ Association and Chilliwack MLA Dan Coulter, who served on the board prior to being elected to his provincial role.
“I really support the ministers move here,” Coulter said in an interview Wednesday. “She’s done a great job. The B.C. government has a set of values that guide boards of education, and this intervention is to help the board live up to those values, which include student achievement, student outcomes and a commitment to equity.”
He said the work will help “bring the board in line with the School Act,” setting clear steps for the board to follow.
“This is a real step forward, in my view,” he added. “The special advisor’s findings linked the board work back to student achievement and inclusion. And it shows the importance of a locally elected board.”
The Chilliwack Teachers’ Association released a statement of support for Whiteside’s decision.
“For three years, Chilliwack teachers have been calling for intervention by the minister of education,” said 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.”
The board has been in the news frequently since 2017, when Trustee Barry Neufeld wrote a controversial Facebook post regarding SOGI 123. There have been numerous legal actions since that time, including a human rights complaint against Neufeld, and a defamation suit launched by Neufeld.
The press coverage that followed has had a negative effect locally, Klettke said.
“These comments dampen morale and put a bad light on our schools,” he said. “This has affected teachers, students and the broader community in an extremely negative way.”
He said the minister’s order goes further than they had anticipated, and focuses 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,” he added. “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.”
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