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Total Recall

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Jody Vance: Chilliwack School Trustee Barry Neufeld has proven one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt – his constituents deserve the ability to fire him.

One would need to be living under a rock to not know the name of controversial Chilliwack School Trustee Barry Neufeld. He is the proof that our system is broken.

First elected in 1993, he stayed in that role continuously for 15 years, and was re-elected for another epic term in 2011. Time and time again, he has proven to be homophobic, transphobic and completely disrespectful to the point of using ablest slurs. And now he’s back making headlines for smoking and drinking while on a Zoom call where his unacceptable public statements about LGBTQ2+ and SOGI123 are concerned.

He’s acting untouchable. So it’s time to create rules that ensure no one in our education system feels they are so Teflon.

As the daughter (and niece and cousin) of a teacher, I’m sure we can collectively do much better by our kids. Neufeld’s ongoing deplorable behaviour sees our Middle going in search of a broader and better way to manage school trustees and boards.

Where is the code of conduct that prioritizes the needs of students over those of elected officials and makes it possible to remove one?

No one should be entitled to their own set of facts, nor their own definition of bigotry and intolerance. There should be no room for “I’m sorry if this offends you.” Offensive is offensive, and should come with consequences.

It’s been years since the Chilliwack School Teachers Association passed a vote of non-confidence on this man.

The Chilliwack Board of Education passed a motion asking for his resignation. The Ministry of Education officially echoed that, calling out Neufeld’s behaviour as “hurtful, offensive and undermine of the goals of the school board and the ministry.”

Think about this for a moment. The bully in the school is the Trustee! Almost 20 years of this disrupting and nasty behaviour, with little if any remorse, is proof that our current system is broken.

The majority of British Columbians agree this person should be gone, yet time and again we are told: “there is no mechanism to remove him.”

In 2021 this excuse should be abolished. If there’s no mechanism…then build one.

The pushback against this is that allowing elected officials to be removed is a slippery slope.

To me, the slippery slope is allowing the bullying, bigoted, homophobic, and transphobic individual to be involved in any capacity with determining how our schools are run.

A basic code of conduct should be at the root of all public office – and it should be enforced.

My Middle here is to grow BC’s education system by one ethics-based arm. An ombudsman or a collective board made up of both elected officials and private citizens who have the power to establish tribunals for removal.

This isn’t hard, it’s democracy at work.

Barry Neufeld is just one example of why our cobweb filled, old-school, education system requires a massive upgrade. Remember when the education minister fired the entire Vancouver School Board in 2016? There’s way more to that story than what is public; a tribunal or ombudsperson would have seen the full story come to light. The public deserves to be better informed as to what their elected officials were/are actually up to.

These aren’t isolated incidents. Ask anyone involved in education today and they will tell you: dysfunction is rampant. Look at teachers in some districts beside themselves at how their boards are or are not handling COVID-19.

To me, Neufeld isn’t so much the subject here, but the catalyst for change.

He’s the reason to stop shrugging our collective shoulders that nothing can be done, and turn it into “yes we can”.

Putting bullies in positions of power is bonkers at the best of times – in our education system, it should be unthinkable. They should be bound by a code of conduct that binds them to the ethical greater good of children.

This must be multipartisan. Choose respected leaders, moderate thinkers, and educated experts in what will be best for kids and youth.

It’s time for a rebuild toward a more inclusive, streamlined, socially responsible and successful school system in BC. It’s time to move out of the Stone Age.

Editor’s Note – After publication, Minister of Education Jennifer Whiteside issued a statement, republished in full below:

“The wellbeing of students and staff in our education system is our highest priority and should be the highest priority of trustees as well.

We are a government that is committed to upholding human rights, supporting student and staff safety and inclusivity, and providing a safe welcoming school system for everyone – and we expect school trustees to do the same.

Time and time again, Mr. Neufeld’s reprehensible comments have made it clear that he should not hold the role of school trustee and should not be in a school setting.

With Mr. Neufeld still sitting on the board and espousing his hateful views, students and staff are not able to learn in a safe and inclusive education system and that is unacceptable.

I applaud the board’s actions to censure Mr. Neufeld, and ban him from schools and in-camera meetings. The board has taken a number of steps to protect students from hateful views.

We need to do more, and that’s why I appointed special advisors in December to find out exactly what is happening and to recommend any further steps that need to be taken to ensure schools are inclusive and welcoming to everyone in Chilliwack.

The advisors have proven track records in school board governance and human rights issues in our province, with strong and complementary skills that will support their evaluation of the board.

I’m confident they will help us put students’ interests back at the forefront of education in Chilliwack.

The special advisors are working on a quick timeline to ensure students and staff feel safe and included in Chilliwack. Their report is due to me February 26th.

In the meantime, Mr. Neufeld should resign immediately, so the board can move forward to put inclusivity and student wellness front and centre in their work.

I look forward to hearing from the special advisors, and acting on any recommendations that are needed to ensure students are supported to learn in inclusive schools in Chilliwack.

To further ensure the actions of elected trustees support safe and inclusive schools for students, I have also directed ministry staff to immediately begin a review of the School Act to consider changes.”

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.

SWIM ON:

SWIM ON