Embattled Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld has issued an apology for comments he made on Monday.
The apology came on Wednesday morning, after an emergency, in-camera meeting of the board on Tuesday evening, and was sent to the district’s trustees, superintendents, secretary-treasurer and members of the media, including The Chilliwack Progress.
“My post on Facebook has created a lot of controversy and first of all, I want to apologize to those who felt hurt by my opinion, including members of the Chilliwack Board of Education. I am critical of an educational resource, not individuals. Those who have worked with me for over 24 years know that I DO believe in inclusion and a safe learning environment for all of our students: that they should be protected from all forms of bullying and intimidation.
I believe that in a free and democratic society, there should be room for respectful discussion and dissent. I firmly believe that implementation of the SOGI 1 2 3 resources needs to be reviewed by engaging parents and teachers in conversation on this topic before full implementation.”
Board chair Paul McManus confirmed that the Tuesday evening meeting was meant to come to a consensus on how to move forward after Neufeld announced his strong opposition to what he’s called “child abuse.”
A Chilliwack school trustee for about 20 years in School District 33, Neufeld posted on Facebook that he would rather live in Russia or Paraguay, “which recently had the guts to stand up to these radical cultural nihilists.”
He was referring to the policy known as SOGI, or sexual orientation and gender identity. He cited a group known for being against the rights of the gay community, the American College of Pediatrics, posted an internet meme making fun of gender identity, and blamed the Liberal government for creating “a weapon of propaganda” and embracing “the LGBTQ lobby and … forcing this biologically absurd theory on children in our schools.”
The comments elicited strong reactions, both from his supporters and those who oppose his ideas. The District and the Board both distanced themselves from Neufeld on Tuesday, as did the BC School Trustee’s Association, and the District Parent Advisory Council.
President of the Chilliwack Teacher’s Association (CTA), Lee-Anne Clarke, said that Neufeld’s public statement was an attack on teachers.
“It’s very hurtful,” she said. “It’s hurtful to our LGBTQ community, it’s hurtful to our teachers, some of them who are part of the LGBTQ community. And this undermines the professionalism of my members. It undervalues all the work we’ve done to make things better for everyone, to make school more safe for everyone, to make it more inclusive and to be more accepting of differences.”
Also on Wednesday, Chilliwack-Kent MLA Laurie Throness spoke in support of Neufeld, through Twitter.
“Trustee Barry Neufeld is a good man, loves children, would never countenance bullying. He deserves to be treated with respect and kindness,” he wrote.
Trustee Barry Neufeld is a good man, loves children, would never countenance bullying. He deserves to be treated with respect and kindness.— Laurie Throness (@LaurieThroness) October 25, 2017
Following Neufeld’s apology letter, the board issued an official statement.
“The comments of Trustee Barry Neufeld on his Facebook page were his own personal opinions and do not reflect the views of the Chilliwack Board of Education,” they wrote.
“The Board of Education strongly believes that its schools need to be safe and welcoming places for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion or background, and that all students deserve to be welcomed, included and respected in a safe learning environment while being fully and completely themselves.
“In October 2016, the Board of Education approved changes to its Safe Schools Policy ensuring that the legislative requirements with reference to the BC Charter of Human Rights and Freedom and the BC Human Rights Code are followed, so that all students are supported in their learning in inclusive environments, free of bullying and harassment.”
The letter was signed by Paul McManus, Board of Education Chairperson.