B.C.’s new minister of education, Jennifer Whiteside, is standing behind her predecessor and calling for a Chilliwack school trustee to resign.
“I wholeheartedly agree with my colleague Minister (Rob) Fleming’s comments on the matter. It is time for Mr. (Barry) Neufeld to step down, full stop,” Whiteside told The Progress. “Time and time again, his reprehensible comments make it clear that he should not hold the role of school trustee and should not be in a school setting.”
Whiteside was sworn in as minister on Nov. 28, and Fleming was moved to the Ministry of Transportation. He had spoken recently to CBC about Neufeld prior to the cabinet shuffle and said there is a “toxic environment created around the (Chilliwack) board table renders that board really dysfunctional.”
There have been at least two petitions created to remove Neufeld.
One that was created in response to his using a derogatory term on his Facebook page has gathered more than 12,000 signatures in two weeks.
“After slandering our local paper and reporters, and continuing to be incredibly insensitive to any minority group in our community, I call for Barry Neufeld’s resignation, and preferably removal as school trustee for SD33 for his continued use of offensive language and complete disregard for decency in our community,” wrote the petition’s creator, Lisa Sweet, a parent in Chilliwack.
But when it comes down it, the minister of education does not have the legal ability to remove a single trustee. The only action currently available to the minister would be to remove the entire school board. The next general election for municipalities and school boards is set for the fall of 2022, and when boards have been removed in the past a single appointee has been put in place in the interim.
Many have written to the Ministry of Education to ask for new legislation that could remove a single sitting trustee under extraordinary circumstances.
As the new minister, Whiteside has been receiving those letters.
“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,” she added. “If he does not do the right thing and step down immediately, I am looking at all possible options to make sure students and staff in Chilliwack feel welcome in their learning environments.”
Neufeld is currently under censure by the Chilliwack school board for comments he made about Canada’s medical officer Dr. Theresa Tam. He is also not allowed to attend Chilliwack schools, due to comments made about the LGBTQ community. And most recently, the school board voted to exclude him from the rest of their in-camera meetings for the school year, because he breached confidentiality and refused to recuse himself in a discussion for which he had pecuniary interests.
Despite being removed from most of his duties as a trustee, he will receive his regular remuneration for the entirety of his term. He can still attend public meetings and vote on matters in front of the board.
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