A Chilliwack school trustee has launched a letter-writing campaign against a volunteer parent, calling her a political activist who has “joined voices with the radicals who are calling for my resignation.”
Trustee Barry Neufeld was writing about Justine Hodge, the chair of the District Parent Advisory Council, who signed a letter agreed upon in an emergency meeting held by DPAC members that did call for his resignation. Several individuals and organizations had already done the same, including the Fraser Valley Labour Council, because of Neufeld’s staunch opposition to the rollout of a sexual orientation and gender identity teacher resource called SOGI 123.
SOGI 123 is aimed at helping teachers address the issues of gender identity in the classroom as they arise, to make classrooms and schools more inclusive. It was brought in under the Liberal government and has had bi-partisan acceptance from the current NDP government, as well the BCTF, BCSTA, and BCCPAC.
A group called Culture Guard, led by a woman named Kari Simpson, has been vocal in stopping teachers from using SOGI 123 (it’s available online for free), but there has been no recorded success. Neufeld spoke as an invited guest at a Culture Guard rally here in November, where more than 400 people attended.
Due to the controversy, including continued Facebook posts by Neufeld against SOGI 123, Neufeld has stepped back from all committees, stopped working as a liaison in schools and has refused to comment on the subject to this newspaper. There are 10 months left in this term and he has announced he intends to run again.
Neufeld wrote the campaign against Hodge in the early hours of Jan. 1, sending out an email at 12:22 a.m. to an unknown number of recipients from his private email.
“I am writing to ask you to start off the New Year by helping me, please,” he starts. “I believe it is time to PUSH BACK!”
This email has resurfaced a handful of times from letter writers who have forwarded it onto Hodge with their letters supporting Neufeld. Those letters, totaling more than two dozen in 24 hours, included enough hate that Hodge called the RCMP to start a file.
One stated: “People are well aware of the left wing freak show along with the four eyed blue haired face pierced tatted up non-binary zurs that PRETEND to speak for all people. THEY DONT. The brainwashing from you LEFTWING WEIRDOS for the last 30 years IS OVER. My family and friend WILL FIGHT YOU on this and you will lose miserably.”
Another aimed more directly at SOGI 123 and LGBTQ families.
“This email is being sent to expose the insidious and unjustified measures being applied by various parties and individuals to usurp and manipulate students and parents into accepting the LGBTQ agenda through SOGI and Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE).”
Hodge says Neufeld’s letter, which is now circulating among his supporters, contains a lie about her — that she plans on running for school board. She says has no intention of doing so. Neufeld also paints her as a political opponent in that regard, “very activist… positioned herself to be in lock step with the BC Teacher’s Federation.”
He says that “Ms. Hodge is taking sides with only a handful of radical parents, and alienating the vast majority of parents who trust biology and common sense.”
He lists her email address for her DPAC chair role, and the Progress editor’s email, including a copy of her letter to the editor from the Dec. 29 edition.
“I ask that you take Ms. Hodge to task and challenge her opinions,” he wrote. “Remember that a public body like a School District must present all opinions and be inclusive of everyone. Ms. Hodge obviously wants to bar anyone with religious or common-sense scruples from engaging in debate. I firmly believe their opinions are also deserving of consideration and respect.”
In another portion of the letter he suggests most of the school Parent Advisory Councils “are not interested in political activism.”
“They are content to maintain communication with the School Principal and staff, organize fundraising events for items not included in Provincial funding, provide grants for worthy student projects, arrange photographs for school yearbooks, etc.”
However, according to the School Act the official role of a PAC, through its elected officers, is to advise the school board, the principal and staff of the school respecting any matter relating to the school. The PACs advice DPAC (each PAC has the opportunity to elect a member to DPAC). And the DPACs are the legislated parent voice at the school district level, representing the collective views of school PAC and advising the board of education on any matter relating to education in their school district.
Neufeld doesn’t believe Hodge consulted each of the “32 school PACs in Chilliwack.” There are 28 potential spots for DPAC reps in Chilliwack. Only 17 are filled, for lack of volunteer parents, just as there are vacancies at the PAC level in schools for the same reason. However, that’s up from just five reps when Hodge started in her role.
The minutes from the emergency meeting will be accepted at the DPAC’s next monthly meeting, Jan. 25.
“It is concerning that Trustee Neufeld knows so little about DPAC’s purpose and processes,” Hodge says. “He has asked his supporters to target me personally and challenge my opinions, but my opinions on this or any matter are irrelevant. As Chair, I speak on behalf of the Council, I do not make decisions for the Council.”
While the school board chair Paul McManus has admonished Neufeld for continuing to post publicly against SOGI 123, this hasn’t seemed to stop him from starting this letter campaign. And the letter includes language that he hopes to see the fight against gender identity equality in the classroom carry on in the future.
“Our Current Provincial government is very fragile. I do not think I am exaggerating when I believe that this gender controversy may bring down our current government” with SOGI as a part of a provincial platform, he says.
“I am not so presumptuous to think that I alone will rewrite the SOGI curriculum,” he adds. “Wiser and more informed persons than me are already working on it.”
He says he believes there are about 20 in Chilliwack with “gender dysphoria.”
“Not all of these parents subscribe to the unscientific gender-fluid theory that ‘what is between one’s legs is not always the same as what is between one’s ears.’… I do not “hate” transgender children: They can’t help the way they feel. They should certainly NOT be bullied or teased. But I advocate for the least intrusive way of helping them: hopefully to accept the gender they were assigned at birth.”
Education minister Rob Fleming responded on Friday afternoon with a strong message of support for parents and students in Chilliwack.
“It is unfortunate that parents who are supporting SOGI 123 in Chilliwack are now becoming targets of hateful behaviour,” Fleming said in an email to The Progress.
“The Chilliwack Board of Education is the authority to determine the appropriate course of action if they deem their code of conduct has been broken by a fellow trustee.
“Under the School Act, the Minister only has the power to dismiss the entire board of education, and only in very specific circumstances. It’s disappointing that Mr. Neufeld is dedicating his time and efforts to promote his views instead of supporting some of our most vulnerable students.
“Students and parents should know that we are moving forward with SOGI 123 to ensure all students feel welcome in B.C.’s schools, regardless of who they identify as.
“Next October, the voters in Chilliwack will have an opportunity to elect a new board and voters will hopefully support candidates who put forward policies of inclusion and acceptance.”
Meanwhile, on Thursday the letters kept pouring in, following the publishing of Hodge’s email and the republishing of several of the points Neufeld made in his initial letter, but a Christian television personality with a connection to the Culture Guard. Laura Lynn Thompson told her followers: “The attack against [Neufeld’s] courageous stand wages on as Ms. Justine Hodge, President of the Chilliwack District Parents Advisory Council has joined voices with the radicals who are calling for his resignation.
In response, parents in Chilliwack have been posting messages of support for the Chilliwack DPAC executive members, who say they voted unanimously on the letter, and Hodge specifically.
“We are just so happy the DPAC stood up for what’s right and what’s best for our kids,” Leah Reimer said. “I’m so sorry that you’re being the one lied about Justine, you’re just doing your best. It’s too bad hate speaks so loudly.”
Evelyn Novak, the School District’s superintendent, said Friday morning, that the issue would likely be coming up in the weeks to come around the board table.
“I am sure this will be a topic of Board discussion in the upcoming weeks, once we are back in session,” she said.
Neufeld has not responded to questions about the campaign. McManus was reached on holiday and will respond when he returns. The BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils and the BC School Trustee Association are all on official holidays until Monday, Jan. 8 and have deferred comment until then.