EDUCATION Minister Jennifer Whiteside has appointed former B.C. Supreme Court judge Lynn Smith and former Surrey school superintendent Mike McKay as special advisors to evaluate the Chilliwack Board of Education’s commitment to a school system that is safe, inclusive and welcoming to all students and staff.
“The well-being of students and staff in our education system is my highest priority and must be the highest priority of school trustees as well,” Whiteside said on Tuesday. “That is why I am taking immediate action to ensure the decision-making of all trustees at the Chilliwack Board of Education support student achievement and wellness, and that all trustees are adhering to the board’s code of conduct.”
The School Act enables the minister of education to appoint special advisors to review the affairs, performance, and/or other matters of a board of education. Government can also replace an entire board with an official trustee.
Whiteside has also directed ministry staff to immediately begin a review of the School Act to consider changes that ensure the actions of elected trustees support safe and inclusive schools for students and staff.
The special advisors will review the following and report to the minister:
* the board’s ability to work co-operatively to fulfil its duties;
* the board’s ability to provide a safe, welcoming and inclusive school community for all students and staff, regardless of their background, ability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression;
* 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; and
* the board’s relationship with members of the school community and the effects of these matters on student achievement in Chilliwack.
Smith and McKay have strong and complementary skills that will support their evaluation of the board, the government said.
McKay has extensive experience in B.C.’s school system where he has served in multiple roles including as principal, superintendent, official trustee and special advisor.
Smith served as a justice of the B.C. Supreme Court for 14 years and earlier as professor and dean at the University of British Columbia faculty of law. Two of her areas of specialty have been the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and human rights law.
The special advisors will work in partnership to submit biweekly progress updates to the minister and provide a final report after their review is complete.
Under the School Act, special advisors may enter schools and district offices, and can inspect board records. The board and its employees must assist the special advisors in carrying out their duties.
The appointment of the special advisors begins immediately. Their review will be complete on or before February 28, 2021.
MEANWHILE, the president and two vice-presidents of the Chilliwack Teachers’ Association (CTA) applauded Whiteside for appointing special advisors to the Chilliwack Board of Education.
“For three years, Chilliwack teachers have been calling for intervention by the Minister of Education,” said 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.”
Klettke noted that the Chilliwack Board of Education has frequently been in the news for controversial statements made by several Trustees and said that these comments dampen moral and put a bad light on schools. This has affected teachers, students and the broader community in an extremely negative way, she added.
“Many members of our community and teachers have lost confidence in the Board of Education to consider the best interests of all students and employees. It is wonderful to finally see the Education Minister take action to look into the inner workings of the Board and to provide direction. Chilliwack teachers are hopeful that the special advisors will be able to empower the Board to conduct their work in a manner that is respectful to all partner groups,” said Klettke.