'It's time for him to step down': Minister calls for B.C. school trustee's resignation over slur
Note: This story repeats the slur used by Barry Neufeld for clarity and context.
CHILLIWACK, B.C. – There are growing calls for the resignation of a controversial school trustee in B.C.’s Fraser Valley after he used a slur that belittles people with developmental disabilities.
The comment appeared on Chilliwack School District trustee Barry Neufeld's publicly viewable Facebook page on Thursday, referring to three employees of a local newspaper, The Chilliwack Progress, as "retards."
“I know that this trustee used slurs and language against particular groups in the past. But the fact that a school trustee can use a slur like that, and without consideration for the fact that he is supposed to be supporting a safe environment for students and children, is appalling,” said Jon Bartel, a Chilliwack father.
Neufeld’s comment feels particularly personal to Bartel and his wife because they have a daughter with Down syndrome who’s also on the autism spectrum.
“When people say that word, it's still associated with people with disabilities. So when people are using that word, they're saying something stupid or slow or ridiculous -- like my daughter, Sofie -- and that’s the impact that it has. It hits home and it's not OK,” said Katie Bartel.
Earlier this year, Neufeld made transphobic comments and shared conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the school board voting to remove him from all committees and ban him from attending district events involving students or staff.
“I am concerned. This trustee is already under censure and isn't allowed to be on committees or serve as a liaison or attend events with staff and students. So he's been reprimanded in the past for his actions, and it hasn't been making a difference,” said chair Willow Reichelt.
Prior to that, Neufeld made other headlines for his homophobic, racist and misogynistic views.
Reichelt said since Thursday’s comments, she’s been hearing many concerns from staff, teachers, parents and students.
“People are shocked. They're outraged. They are wondering why this person was allowed to be a school trustee. I have those same questions myself, it's just not acceptable,” she said.
Under B.C.’s School Act, the province is able to remove an entire school board, but not an individual trustee.
“I keep hearing that their hands are tied by the School Act, and so we need to change the School Act,” Katie Bartel said.
Education Minister Rob Fleming said he was appalled when he saw Neufeld’s comment and is renewing his calls for the trustee’s resignation.
“It’s reprehensible that his offensive behaviour continues,” Fleming said in an email statement to CTV News. “In addition to targeting the LGBTQ community, and peddling conspiracy theories about Dr. (Theresa) Tam and COVID-19, he is now targeting ableist slurs at individuals. It’s time for him to step down.”
Fleming added he is looking at possible options that the provincial government may have to address the situation.
There is also a new petition with over 1,700 signatures calling for Neufeld’s resignation.
Neufeld did not respond to multiple requests for comment from CTV News.