Friday, 21 April 2017

Scandalous behavior of members of a school board                                          
The local school board is an important public link to public schools in our communities. The elected members of the board set the standards for the schools that they govern. It follows that the members who are elected must be honest and honorable persons as any person who sets standards in all of our communities.

It was most unfortunate that many of members of the York Region District (1) school board didn’t fit the high standard of conduct expected of them.

(1) York Region is a district in the Greater Toronto Area in the Province of Ontario.

A report by two provincially appointed investigators, released on April 18th, 2017 found a culture of fear and distrust at what they described as a dysfunctional school board. The report criticized trustees for failing to denounce racism and making deals to further their personal agendas.

Their report laid the blame on the trustees and the director of education for their lack of strong judgment and leadership. The report called for sweeping changes at the school board, including establishing an integrity commissioner to handle complaints.

The province’s Education Minister, Mitzie Hunter threatened a formal investigation, which was one step away from the board being taken over by a provincial supervisor, if the Board didn’t act quickly to make changes.

The investigators, Patrick Case and Suzanne Herbert, interviewed 140 people and received more than 280 e-mails. They found a culture of fear and distrust at what they described as a dysfunctional school board. They laid the blame directly on the trustees and the director of education for their lack of strong leadership and judgment.

The investigator’s report found that Philip Parappally who was York’s director of education fostered a sense of distrust at the board and requested some senior staff to “spy” on other members of the board.

Ms. Hunter was forced to order the investigation of the York board after concerns were raised by parents and the community about its lack of financial accountability, how allegations of racism and Islamophobia were improperly handled, and how fractured relations started to seep into the York Region District schools. She told reporters, “There are some deep-seated concerns that have been identified by the reviewers and the combination of directions are meant to set this board on track.” Almost half of the 130,000 students are visible minorities, making it one of the most diverse in the province.

Earlier, trustee Nancy Elgie, who was embroiled in controversy for using a racial slur against a black parent by calling her a “nigger” (2) eventually stepped down as a trustee after she publically apologized. The report denounced the other trustees for not filing a complaint against Ms. Elgie earlier.  This particular trustee was encouraged to resign—which she finally did after much prompting.

(2)  In the present-day English language, the word nigger is an ethnic slur, usually directed at black people.  it is often referred to  with the euphemism ; "the N-word.

The investigator’s report also stated that the trustees failed to show leadership in an investigation into anti-Muslim Facebook posts by a principal in Markham. “There was a complete absence among board members of any appreciation of their obligation to take a strong and unequivocal stand against racism and intolerance at the board the investigators stated. They added, “We feel compelled to denounce the board’s responses.”

The investigators further found an erosion of trust among trustees and senior staff. The Trustees lost focus on student achievement and were instead consumed by infighting and personal clashes amongst themselves.

The investigators also learned of a number of stories about trustees making homophobic jokes and comments and discouraging gay-straight alliance groups to exist—which violates a provincial directive

Then there’s the fact that the trustees were clueless as to why the public was concerned about their taxpayer-funded trips abroad. In fact, travel by trustees and staff amounted to $150,000 in the years 2014 to 2016, though the board was so strapped for cash that it asked parents to donate school supplies and tissue boxes.

Trustees and senior staff used public funds to travel internationally with no clear purpose for visiting the resorts they went to and deliberately showed a lack of accountability. The investigators called for a full moratorium on travel for senior staff and trustees until more accountability measures are put in place. The Minister, Ms. Hunter immediately moved on that recommendation.

The director, Philip Parappally, and the former chairperson, Anna DeBartolo, made deals with other trustees for support on issues by offering to advance their personal constituency agendas, the report found.

Loralea Carruthers, the board’s new chairperson, said in a release that trustees will move swiftly to implement some of the key recommendations. “We want parents and students to be assured this report will not be ignored in any way, shape or form.”        

The Director of Education Philip Parappally was ousted from his position with the York Region District School Board by the Minister of Education.          

The next step should be to deduct from the salaries of the trustees the monies paid for their vacations by the taxpayers.       

Finally the York Region District School Board trustees are now coming to grips with the fear, racism, unprofessionalism and disregard of taxpayer dollars that have festered in that school district for years.

Now that Parappally is gone, the real hard work of rebuilding respect and trust among staff, parents, trustees, and students at Ontario’s third-largest school board will begin, hopefully with results.        

Alas, that will probably be difficult considering that the task of cleaning up the mess was created by those same trustees who were themselves found to be far from honest and ethical leaders in which they were all dysfunctional and preferred to be unaccountable. Using those same people to fix the problem is no different than asking a fox to clean a henhouse.

Unfortunaly the government can’t fire theese trustees since they were elected into office but I hope the people living in that school district choose candidates of a better caliber in the next election than those who are already holding those positions. 

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