The Chilliwack Board of Education meets on Feb. 23, 2021 via Zoom. (Screenshot)

The Chilliwack Board of Education meets on Feb. 23, 2021 via Zoom. (Screenshot)

B.C.’s education minister directs Chilliwack board to become inclusive

Special advisors worked for months to identify issues among contentious trustee group

The Ministry of Education has released its findings from a special advisor report on the Chilliwack Board of Education.

Jennifer Whiteside has given several tasks to the board and expects them to be completed by October this year. The board has been steeped in controversy since 2017, when Trustee Barry Neufeld began speaking openly about his concerns on SOGI 123.

The special advisors, Lynn Smith, QC, and former Surrey school superintendent Mike McKay, were by Whiteside, the minister of education, in December. Their role was to “evaluate the board’s commitment to a school system that is safe, inclusive and welcoming to all students and staff.”

The report was delivered to Whiteside at the end of February, and there have been many people who have been calling for her to dismiss the entire board.

But that hasn’t happened.

Instead, Whiteside released a statement on Tuesday, April 6 saying that the board “must take action to better support students.”

She 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.”

Whiteside did say that she has “concerns about the board’s ability to fully support students and function effectively as a governing body.”

The report from the advisors lists several ways the board can improve.

“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.”

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.

READ MORE: Special advisors appointed to evaluate Chilliwack school board


@CHWKcommunity
jpeters@theprogress.com

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