More than 400 people gathered for an inclusion rally in support of sexual orientation and gender identity policies in B.C. schools outside a Chilliwack school board meeting in November. (Greg Laychak/ Progress file)

Teachers’ union votes for non-confidence in school board

Lack of action after embattled trustee’s comments created unsafe workplace, Chilliwack teachers claim

The Chilliwack Teachers’ Association has added its name to the growing number of organizations speaking out against the actions of Chilliwack Trustee Barry Neufeld.

But like the CUPE Local 411 that is has brought a complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal, the CTA is holding the entire board accountable for the fallout from Neufeld’s actions.

They issued a letter to the media on Wednesday afternoon stating they have passed a motion of non-confidence in the Chilliwack Board of Education

“Amid growing controversy and concern for the emotional and physical safety of students, staff and teachers, members of the Chilliwack Teachers’ Association (CTA) have passed a motion of non-confidence in the Chilliwack Board of Education,” the letter says.

CTA Non Confidence in Board by Jess Peters on Scribd

They held their general meeting on Jan. 16, where teachers “expressed deep concerns about the failure of Chilliwack trustees to take a strong stand in the wake of attacks on the Sexual Orientation Gender Identity (SOGI) initiative,” the letter continues.

“We are extremely worried about ensuring safe and inclusive schools and worksites for all,” said CTA President Lee-Anne Clarke. “At a time when our school community needs a unified response of support, the board has allowed a toxic climate to spread across the school district.”

The CUPE complaint to the tribunal also cited unsafe workplace environments caused by Neufeld’s comments, and a failure to censure him for his actions. He has made disparaging remarks that many have called hurtful and intolerant of the LGBTQ community. He has not responded to multiple requests for clarification on his statements from this newspaper.

“The Chilliwack Teachers’ Association is also calling on Education Minister Rob Fleming to intervene in this matter,” Clarke said.

In July 2016, the BC Human Rights Code was amended to include gender identity and expression (casually known as SOGI) as a prohibited ground of discrimination. The Ministry of Education followed suit, and that’s what lead to SOGI becoming a part of schools.

“These changes are long overdue, and the BCTF has been fully supportive of these efforts to support LGBTQ students, staff, and other members of our school communities,” BC Teachers’ Federation President Glen Hansman said.

SOGI 123 resources were created collaboratively by the provincial Ministry of Education, the BCTF, nine school districts, and Out In Schools.

Clarke’s letter from the CTA added that “since offensive public Facebook posts started appearing in late October, the Board of Education has been unable to prevent Trustee Barry Neufeld from spreading misinformation about what is being taught in Chilliwack schools.”

And that, they say, was a failure of the board.

“By not collectively opposing this cruel misinformation, the Chilliwack School Board of Trustees has failed in its responsibility to the students, staff, teachers and others in our school community,” Clarke said. “The members of the Chilliwack Teachers’ Association are highly skilled professionals who are fully capable of dealing with difficult questions and complex situations, and we expect our elected trustees to do the same.”

Hansman also added that teachers and educators will continue to rally together to fight hatred.

“Sometimes our beliefs, values, and responsibilities as professional educators are challenged by those who promote hatred. This is often the case when it comes to sexual health curriculum in schools and our efforts to ensure safe, inclusive schools for all students – including LGBTQ students,” he said.

“Far from being deterred by such tactics, the BCTF and the Chilliwack Teachers’ Association are continuing to work closely together to support LGBTQ members of our school communities, as required by law and policy.”

The letter follows a tense night at Chilliwack School Board, Tuesday. A rally coincided with a regular board meeting, and tensions did run high at one point of the evening. As the rally moved into the lobby during the meeting, and shouts drowned out the speakers in the boardroom, Trustee Heather Maahs put forward a motion to suspend the meeting so they could have the rally participants “cleared.” That motion was seconded by Neufeld but saw no other support, and failed.

The same evening, board chair Paul McManus read a statement by the board in full support of teachers using SOGI 123 resources.


@CHWKcommunity
jpeters@theprogress.com

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