Posts Tagged Bullying
One of the major issues facing school board accountability in Ontario is that when school boards appoint trustees, boards tend to favor appointees who are friendly with the board and tend to vote with the board. In politics it’s extremely hard to unseat an incumbent, so many board appointees have somewhat of a leg up on other potential candidates during elections. Over the course of the past several months, the trustees at the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) have come under fire for misuse of travel expenses, appointment of an unprecedented multi-million dollar contract for a director of education, lack of transparency, loss of public confidence and a lot of infighting.
There has been growing calls to expand the legal roles trustees play in our public school sector to ensure broader public oversight of our education system, and on the flip side some are suggesting trustees have outlived their role and are vocally calling for the role itself to be abolished. Whatever the side of the fence you belong to, this issue is likely to become a part of the provincial election next year, since the YRDSB is just the most recent board to come under fire over the past several years for misbehaving trustees, and board staff.
A few months ago I posted a blog regarding debates that were going on how to fill a vacant seat at the YRDSB as a result of Georgina Trustee Nancy Elgie resigning. Since Elgie’s resignation I’ve spoken with YRDSB Chair Loralea Carruthers expressing concern regarding an appointment and that the people of Georgina need a choice. There are significant issues that Elgie utterly refused to deal with. Many of those concerns from constituents the Toronto Star bought up with Elgie over a 2 day interview with her and her family, in which hours after the interview Elgie resigned. There were a large number of concerns the Star presented to Elgie regarding her representation at the board from her constituents and fellow trustees which a lot of Elgie’s supporters and her own family shrugged off as being partisan.
Carruthers admitted that she supported the by-election option back a few months ago, but the majority of the votes on the board were looking at appointing the only other candidate to run against incumbent Nancy Elgie in the last election which was Cynthia Cordova. The board, at the time this decision was going to be made, was under review by the province, and the board was concerned about public backlash as a result of that appointment. So the board decided to hold a public consultation for mid-March with the people of Georgina and ask what they wanted.
What ensued looked very much like the board manipulating information and the process of consultation to try desperately seek the appointment of Cordova, rather than actually seek the input of the people of Georgina.
The first issue that was present was costing. The Town of Georgina provided the YRDSB a “very rough estimate” of the costing of a by-election. The estimate that was provided to the board by the town was the full costing of the 2014 municipal election, in which is headed on the report given to YRDSB staff. The total cost of the full 2014 municipal election in Georgina was $300,000. This includes election of town council, mayor, and trustee. Carruthers during this time was all over media explaining that the board would have to spend $300,000 for a by-election. Carruthers left out that the $300,000 was actually the full costing of the last municipal election in Georgina, and rather providing due diligence in ensuring accurate information got out to the public on the costing of the by-election, Carruthers ran to media with the $300,000 figure almost immediately. Weeks later, the town halved that figure to approx. $160,000 upon investigation by myself and curious editors at the Toronto Star. Carruthers blamed inaccurate information by board staff for this mess, and she was just going by information the town provided her, which was titled “2014 municipal election expenses”.
Next up was this so called community consultation. It was hastily done. Parents didn’t get notification in some cases until hours before this “consultation” took place on where to attend ensuring that other potential candidates didn’t have time to rally their supporters, all the while ensuring an overall low turnout by holding this consultation essentially during March break. I spoke with Carruthers to try and get this moved back a week to allow the public proper notification, which she refused. The ballot asking people what they wanted in this consultation listed the net zero option of appointing Cordova at the top, second option was appointment of another candidate the board would select (costing for that was $60,000), and the final and last option was the by-election. A lot of policy and law were included on this ballot as well which even for a policy wonk like myself was quite a bit, and should have been simplified for public viewing by the board.
While most living in York Region are somewhat used to this board pulling this type of thing and ensuring the voices of the public don’t actually get through, what is surprising is that all of this took place while the board was under investigation for losing public confidence for exactly that. All throughout this nonsense I was keeping the YRDSB reviewers informed of the situation. I also consulted with a few legal experts I know well as a result of my time as a youth advocate in the policy trenches, some of whom stated that this situation could be precedent setting if the board had appointed, in that it would put into question the entire provincial school system’s legal ability to appoint, and quite possibly question the legal role trustees have – within what is supposed to be – a democratic institution.
I wrote to all trustees and CC’d the YRDSB reviewers (to ensure the public had access to my concerns at a later date. Everything sent to the reviewers is subjected to freedom of information requests and a matter of public record). Here was what I sent on March 17th, 2017 to all trustees:
I’ve been involved for many years working with the province as an advocate to further school board accountability. In fact I was one of the main advocates advocating for the Ontario Ombudsman to have oversight over the school boards as a result of how dysfunctional the democratic nature of our Provincial School Boards are and how much at risk that is putting our kids in. The following was sent to Board Chair Loralea Carruthers last night on my behalf. I wanted to share this with all of you regarding the vacant seat in Georgina, and what the board has chosen to do, and how you have all handled this. There will be consequences for ALL boards across the province if there is any decision to appoint anyone to this vacant seat:In my time in the policy trenches both federal and provincially I have met and had the pleasure of speaking with politicians from all sides of the isle. Most politicians that I’ve had the pleasure of working with are very strongly committed to furthering democracy in their respected institutions. I don’t know of any politician that would ever drop unvetted and unverified numbers on the public, and try and deter constituencies from any democratic process based on costs. Even verified numbers. I think the vast majority of those in both our provincial legislature, and our federal HoC would never do anything like that, since it would undermine the very fabric of democracy in those institutions in which they serve. There is NO valid argument against any democratic process.You are a good politician. I know you care about the institution you serve, but I strongly believe the shortsightedness, or the inability to step outside your bubble, is one of the reasons why you are still a trustee. If anything, whatever this turns out to be, will be an fantastic case study as to why our public learning institutions shouldn’t have the legal ability to appoint. In fact you have my word, that if the YRDSB appoints in this circumstance for any reason, you will be the last board in the province to do so. I can almost guarantee that.Jason KoblovskyGeorgina Parent/Policy Analyst
Days later the ad-hoc committee tasked with this consultation delivered their recommendations to the board which recommended a by-election. As expected a record low turnout, and those few that did were Cordova’s supporters asking for her appointment. Publicly Cordova did state that she favored this community consultation process, however Cordova at the time of posting this blog was unavailable for further comment. Board Chair Loralea Carruthers will be at an event on June 12th, meeting with Georgina parents.
Why this blog, and why now? It is important that all candidates know the issues present in trying to give Georgina a voice at the YRDSB. I don’t normally get involved in local issues. A lot of my advocacy around school board accountability was done at a provincial level, through provincial youth advocates and started back in 2009 during a high profile bullying incident at Keswick High and the responses – or lack there of – by the YRDSB and then Trustee Nancy Elgie. The end result of that advocacy was the province agreeing to expand the Ombudsman’s investigative powers to school boards in 2015.
As a strong supporter of democratic institutions, I would rather see public voices return to school boards. I would rather see openness and inclusion of the community in the board processes, and above all an end to protectionist behaviors of the boards, which have cost lives across this province and put even more children at great risk due to lack of accountability on the boards by those we elect to them.
Whomever wins this by-election in Georgina will have a very tough role going forward. Not only will they have less than a year to turn this board around, and produce results for a community long forgotten, but post provincial election in 2018, they will most likely have to publicly defend the role of a trustee in the current school board system. As a parent, I would rather have a say and my voice respected, rather than not have any voice at all.
(York Region District School Board Still Plagued With Accountability and Bullying Issues Seven Years After High Profile Rally)
Back in 2009, over 400 students walked out of their classrooms denouncing staff at Keswick High School’s decision to wrongfully suspend an Asian student who was the subject of bullying. This incident in 2009 took the York Region District School Board [YRDSB] off guard and continues to be a black eye on the board regarding how not just Board Trustee Nancy Elgie handled the case, but how the bigotry and blind eye towards victims of abuse ran rampant in York Region Schools. It wasn’t until media was involved and a public outcry, that Trustee Elgie (who’s profession is a clinical psychologist) and higher ranks at YRDSB actively got involved to correct the situation. The Keswick High protests brought forth change in YRDSB policy, however not the attitude of the board to listen to students and parents.
Fast forward to 2016. Seven years after the Keswick High boondoggle, there have been several reports that a school just blocks away is displaying again intolerance around bullying to the point where even the staff seem to be taking an active role in it. Keswick parent Robin Legault took to facebook in horror, and desperation after feeling nothing was being done to correct her concerns by school staff and the YRDSB. Legault stated in her facebook post, that she had complained to the school several times regarding the bullying, and staff gave her the cold shoulder:
My fiancé and I have repeatedly complained to the school about these issues in hopes the school staff would rectify this, but it seemed they would just ignore the problem and tell us they were “looking into it”.
Legault goes on to say that as a result of the relentless bullying her daughter tried to take her own life, not once but twice. Legault was horrified to find out recently that school staff seem to be taking an active role in the abuse of her child. Legault stated:
On Wednesday March 9th 2016, I was expecting my daughter to have had a really good day at school. I never had any phone calls or anything and was hopeful she had a rare, but peaceful day. Quite the opposite. When she arrived home, she told me that her special education teacher had prevented her to leave the classroom at all costs and also asked another teacher to “make sure she didn’t leave”. Her special education teacher was sending her down to the office and as my daughter asked why she was being sent, the special education teacher demanded her to do ten crunches in front of the class. Every time my daughter opened her mouth to ask what was going on, another ten crunches was added to make a total of eighty crunches that my daughter was forced to do before she left. She was escorted down to the office and remained there for the day. She was not allowed to read, do her schoolwork, or even draw while she was there. When my daughter was finally allowed to return to her special education class, my daughter was terrified to speak, as she didn’t want more crunches. In addition, her teacher told her that something must be wrong with her head and using anxiety and depression is just an excuse.
The facebook post quickly shared by thousands on facebook produced comments from across the country of support and similar issues with other school boards and staff. Legault, is planning on a rally in front of Jersey Public School Monday March 21st, 2016 at 7:30am to denounce bullying problems at this school with the support of several other concerned parents. She is asking those that plan on attending to wear pink.
Legault has since approached Trustee Elgie, and the superintendent of the school only to be met with threats of a lawsuit from YRDSB, and dismissal of her complaints on staff. According to YRDSB spokesperson Licinio Miguelo, upon a complaint from a parent on the conduct of school staff the board is supposed to initiate an investigation on the incident at the school. There has been no indication or documentation provided to Legault that any investigation is ongoing regarding her complaint, just threats of a lawsuit against Legault’s family by the board, nor did Miguelo provide any indication of an ongoing investigation into Legault’s concerns.
Under safe schools legislation YRDSB is supposed to implement anti-bullying programs board-wide. Miguelo wouldn’t comment on whether in Legault‘s case proper policy was followed citing privacy concerns, and did not have any specific information regarding what anti-bullying programs were in place at Jersey Public School at the time of the interview. I was told the board would provide that at a later date. In 2010 the Ontario Auditor General found a total of
$30 million $50 million in tax payers money earmarked for anti-bullying programs unaccounted for by all school boards across the province.
I spoke with Legault’s Trustee Nancy Elgie today on the record. When questioning Elgie on the threatening behavior of the board, Elgie acknowledged that the board provided “legal advise” to Legault, and essentially called into question Legault’s story on facebook as being not truthful. Elgie provided nothing to counter Legault’s claims, nor did she elaborate. Upon questioning regarding the bullying problems at Jersey Public School which is well known in the community, Elgie stated that she hasn’t heard of any systemic bullying issues from parents at this school, meanwhile there is documentation that shows Elgie was e-mailed by the superintendent showing systemic issues being investigated by the board on Legault’s daughters bullies in 2014. Legault stated that Elgie refused to get in contact with her in 2014, along with the superintendent that was copied on the e-mail thread.
When questioning Elgie if she would be willing to meet with concerned parents regarding the bullying issues at this school, Elgie agreed however offered that she would only be there to listen to concerns, and would not offer up any solutions to the systemic bullying issues at Jersey Public School. Elgie did state however that she will be attending the rally on March 21st.
What saddens me from following this story, is that we just had a national discussion on bullying, to the point where the Federal Government in 2014 tried to address the issue through federal legislation. The Ontario Government passed safe schools legislation years ago, that seems to be rather voluntary regarding the boards implementation of it. The country, it’s people, and elected representatives are all on the same page regarding bullying, so why aren’t educators and trustees?
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