With security at the door, and a lineup of people waiting to attend Tuesday night’s School Board meeting, it’s no surprise that the evening was full of the same sorts of dramatics that have plagued School District 33 for the last 18 months.
“This thing has become sort of normal,” commented board chair Dan Coulter, after the meeting.
However, regardless of how normal the discord has become for Chilliwack’s school board, what is new is Trustee Barry Neufeld’s claim that he’s the victim of workplace discrimination.
“Yes, I was discriminated against,” said Neufeld during the meeting’s first question period. “I intend to do something legally about it.
“Three trustees with only one month of experience voted to treat me – with 24 years’ experience – as if I were a dirty old man. And the chair, who’s been on the board for six years … has turned against me and has treated me like persona non grata.”
During the board’s Dec. 11, 2018 meeting, a motion was brought forward to approve the chair’s assignment of trustees to board schools, which Neufeld was excluded from due his condemnation of the SOGI 123 teaching resource and concern his comments were leaving some staff and students feeling unsafe.
“We’ve never accused him of being a physical danger, but he does make them feel unsafe,” explained Coulter after the meeting. Barry “thinks because he’s not a threat to their physical safety … then people shouldn’t feel unsafe, (but) it’s not up to him to tell people how they can feel.”
Last year, Neufeld voluntarily stepped down from his liaison duties after a B.C. human rights complaint was filed against him.
The School Act, which governs the powers of B.C. school boards, doesn’t list being a school liaison as a trustee’s right. “Barry Neufeld’s rights and job as a trustee, there’s no infringement on that, and he has full privileges,” said Coulter during the meeting.
The Progress reached out to Barry Neufeld for comment, but didn’t receive any answer by press time.
As for the board’s position on Neufeld’s claim of discrimination, “it was a decision of the board (to remove Neufeld from his liaison duties),” continued Coulter. As part of the board, Neufeld was able to vote on his inclusion as a school liaison, however, the vote was for his exclusion.
“But once the board takes a vote, as we’re a corporate board, it’s a decision. We’re one body, and only the board (as a whole) can make decisions, not individual trustees. (So) the difference here is (Barry’s) attacking people on grounds of protection against the Charter and Human Rights Act, and when he’s talking about him being discriminated against, I just don’t know (what) grounds he’s being discriminated against.
“There’s nothing in the legislation, just his opinion, (but an) opinion is not a ground of protection in the Human Rights Code.”
And while there’s no definitive answer of legal action from Neufeld, Coulter says the board “did not discriminate against any trustee, (and will) just keep working as we’ve been. So far we’re trying to be professional.”