B.C. education minister not replacing Chilliwack school board even as report shows its struggling to govern

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British Columbia’s education minister says she’s looking into legislative changes around managing school board trustees and is requiring that Chilliwack school board members attend human rights training.

The news comes as Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside shared the results of a special investigation into the Chilliwack School Board.

Some members of the board have been the subject of scrutiny and criticism due to their attitudes around LGBTQ+ and disability inclusion, and, more recently, for defending anti-maskers.

“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,” reads an April 6 news statement from the province.

Barry Neufeld, a trustee who has been elected several times, has called allowing a child to transition genders “child abuse,” has had human rights complaints filed against him, and is the subject of a lawsuit that’s calling for his removal. Neufeld has also publicly targeted people with ableist and derogatory slurs, and once lit a cigar during an online school board meeting.

The province’s former education minister, Rob Fleming, publicly asked Neufeld to step down, but he did not.

Another member, Trustee Heather Maahs was under fire in early December for her support of an anti-mask protester.

The report says the school board “must take action to better support students,” and directs all members to undergo human rights training in partnership with the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner.

It also says the board should consult with school communities to revise its code of ethics for trustees and develop “a policy regarding inclusive board practices.”

The news release says the special advisors have concerns about the Chilliwack school board’s ability to adhere to “principles of good governance and ethical, civil and co-operative trustee behaviour.” Their inability to do 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,” it continues.

Whiteside says she’s also concerned about the board’s ability to support students and govern effectively, however she did not call for the board to be replaced by a special appointed trustee – a move within her power as the Minister of Education.

"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.

"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," she added.