British Columbia

B.C. government appoints investigators into Chilliwack School Board

In November, Rob Fleming, then the minister of education, said the government would explore every option for removing Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld from office.

The Chilliwack School Board is one step closer to being completely removed by the provincial government

Chilliwack's Board of Education from left: trustee David Swankey, trustee Heather Maahs, trustee Darrell Furgason, board chair Dan Coulter, board vice chair Willow Reichelt, trustee Jared Mumford and trustee Barry Neufeld. (Chilliwack School District)

The Chilliwack School Board is one step closer to being completely removed by the provincial government.

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside announced Tuesday that two people have been appointed to review the school board's "commitment to a school system that is safe, inclusive and welcoming to all students and staff."

The two investigators are Lynn Smith, a former B.C. Supreme Court justice and dean of UBC's law faculty, and former Surrey school superintendent Mike McKay.

Among the things they are being asked to review:

  • "The extent that actions of trustees in their role are consistent with the human rights of students and staff."
  • "The adherence of trustees to the board's code of ethics."
  • "The board's ability to work co-operatively to fulfil its duties."

They will have until the end of February 2021 to complete their review. 

Neufeld's long history

In November, Rob Fleming, then the minister of education, said the government would explore every option for removing Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld from office.

"I have a high level of concern about whether the .... toxic environment created around the board table renders that board really dysfunctional," said Fleming.

"We're going to look at options and make a decision going forward from there."

Neufeld had been under fire for Facebook posts this year where he called reporters at the Chilliwack Progress newspaper a slur used against people with intellectual disabilities, and questioned the gender identity of Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's top health official. 

Neufeld has been censured, and is banned from attending school board events involving students or staff or from attending in-camera meetings of the school board. 

School trustee Barry Neufeld set off a firestorm of controversy after posting a Facebook message that called B.C. educators 'radical cultural nihilists' for gender policies in schools. (Chilliwack School Board)

All gone or none?

There is no recall mechanism available for a single school board trustee, and there are only limited ways that individual trustees can be disqualified from office, but provincial legislation does allow the government to remove the entire board.

Chilliwack School Board chair Willow Reichelt previously told CBC News it "would be unfortunate" if the government fired the entire school board.

"I hope the minister finds another solution ... but I understand how some people could think that having no board would be preferable to having this particular board."

In a statement, the Chilliwack Teachers' Association said it welcomed the investigation.

"For three years, Chilliwack teachers have been calling for intervention by the minister of education," wrote CTA president Ed Klettke. 

"We are pleased with the recent announcement from the new minister of education and are hopeful to see changes in the conduct of individual trustees and the functionality of the board as a whole."

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