Serious Questions Remain as York School Board Trustee Steps Down

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(York School Board Trustee Nancy Elgie Tenders Her Resignation via Youtube)

Yesterday York Region District School Board [YRDSB] Trustee Nancy Elgie told her constituents via a Youtube video that she would be stepping down as a Trustee, months after uttering a racial slur by “mistake”.  In the almost 10 minute heavily edited statement on youtube, Elgie stated that the whole situation is a misunderstanding, and she didn’t mean to say those hurtful words to a parent in York Region. Elgie went on to say that there is no “sanction” under employment laws for trustees under which she was investigated and she felt was wrong (Elgie under the employment investigation was ordered to take “equality training” as a sanction). She also stated she didn’t resign immediately because she wanted this to be a teachable moment for the kids and the community.  I fully agree with this being a teachable moment for the community in Georgina, and also within York Region.

Over the past several months there has been a lot of questions as to why the York trustees chose to investigate this matter as one that suits “employment law” rather than the appropriate trustee code of conduct. By treating this incident under employment law, the board and its trustees effectively shielded Elgie from accountability measures that were put into place nearly 14 years ago by the Province of Ontario to deal with trustee conduct (who are publicly elected officials).  Trustees are NOT employed by the board. They are employed by the tax payers of this province and the YRDSB had no authority to make this matter one of employment law.

YRDSB Chair Loralea Carruthers (who is a defeated Liberal candidate in York-Simcoe and long time YRDSB trustee) posted up a statement after a tremendous amount of public pressure was put on the board to follow through with a code of conduct review on Elgie.  Carruthers stated:

The Education Act does provide Trustees with the ability to initiate a Code of Conduct complaint when a colleague commits a breach. The Trustee Code of Conduct process is complex, has limitations, must be conducted in private and its outcome is not always able to be made public. We are unable, under the rules that govern us, to even let the public know if we are proceeding with a Code of Conduct complaint. The process typically takes months, is expensive and, should a breach be confirmed, Trustees are limited in terms of what sanctions can be applied.

If the YRDSB followed through with a code of conduct complaint after Elgie was sanctioned under employment law, the board would have needed to take Elgie to court to argue the board erred in law and sanctions needed to be under the trustee code of conduct. This would have cost the tax payers and the board massive amounts of money had Elgie fought the board legally on this.

Under the trustee code of conduct, not much can be done to sanction a trustee other than short term suspensions.  Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was recently questioned on the lack of “teeth” in the trustee code of conduct, too which her reply was basically – we put that in over 13 years ago, and its better than nothing.  Last year the Ontario Auditor General found the Wynne Liberals gave a $22 million blank cheque to the school unions, and just this month gave teachers across the province a 4% raise.

The huge problem not just the YRDSB is having – but boards across the province – is protectionist behavior.  Protect their own, rather than be held accountable for their mistakes, which continues to this day even when the YRDSB is under investigation.  This should be of great concern to the tax payers of Ontario.

York trustees on February 13th, 2017, one by one urged Elgie to resign, effectively throwing her under the bus to protect the “institution” and once again tried to sweep the misconduct of other trustees who fought to wrongfully protect Elgie from a code of conduct review under the rug.  Wynne has stated in a presser earlier last week that the province has sent in investigators to the YRDSB to uncover why the YRDSB did not follow through with a code of conduct complaint, and to determine if other trustees are in violation of that code of conduct as a result.  Wynne also stated that the investigators she has sent into the YRDSB may make recommendations to the province in order to tighten up and properly sanction trustees around their code of conduct laws.

Now that Elgie has stepped down, the residents of Georgina need to ask themselves; is this cover-up of misconduct by Elgie at the YRDSB an isolated incident?  Over the later part of the week, the Toronto Star was in contact with Elgie, and her family for several days. Several of her constituents came forward to the Star regarding Elgie’s conduct as a trustee.  The Toronto Star over these several days questioned the family and Elgie herself on several situations where she was seen to be dismissive and non-responsive to concerns of the community.  In one instance the Toronto Star brought up:

“Desiree Makuto, whose son was videotaped being beaten and racially taunted by classmates in a high-profile incident at Sutton District High School in 2014, said she called and emailed Elgie for support, to no avail.

“She never did respond — she was surprisingly silent on the issue,” said Makuto. “… She had an obligation, a role to play.”

Elgie’s son Stewart dismissed the concerns of the community stating to the Star:

“these allegations are a disappointing attempt to re-write history and smear the record of a trustee who has earned consistent praise from her colleagues and constituents over the years.”

There was growing pressure for Elgie to step down over the past few months, and her resignation seems to have come following serious questions from the community she serves on her conduct, and leaves serious questions about the conduct of other trustees and the board in its wake.  If we are truly looking to reform the YRDSB, than we must take a good close look at the protectionist behavior these institutions are well known for, and why it’s been allowed to continue in law for so many years while the province has known about the problems of conduct, and developed legislation with nothing meaningful in play to stop it.

As a resident of Georgina in which Elgie has served and parent myself, one can only hope that the members of my community will elect someone who understands that the role of a trustee is to hold the board to account, knows the problems in our local schools, and can properly and effectively advocate for ALL in their constituency. A board meeting will be held on February 21st, 2017 to discuss whether the board will appoint a replacement or rightfully allow the community of Georgina to go to the polls.

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