Ontario Education Minister Calls for Focus Amid OCDSB Trustee Feud Over Code Conduct Breach

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Ontario’s education minister is urging trustees of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) to refocus their priorities following recent internal disputes that culminated in a contentious code of conduct vote.

The dispute centered around trustee Nili Kaplan-Myrth and her alleged harassment and insults of fellow trustee Donna Dickson via text messages. The incident sparked outrage and prompted a special board meeting to determine whether Kaplan-Myrth’s communication amounted to a breach of the board’s code of conduct. Dickson’s formal complaint alleged that the text messages were not only disrespectful and insulting but also contained defamatory remarks about other trustees.

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The alleged incident occurred during an exchange about whether Dickson would support Kaplan-Myrth’s motion to reimpose a mask mandate in OCDSB schools. Kaplan-Myrth’s actions and the resultant friction within the board follows a turbulent period of OCDSB meetings being disrupted by protests about mask and transgender issues.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce weighed in on the troubling situation, urging the board to concentrate on their core responsibilities of student education, focusing on reading, writing, and arithmetic, also known as the ‘Three Rs’. He underlined that the time and resources of one of Ontario’s largest school boards should be dedicated to student achievement rather than disputes that undermine public confidence.

The determination of Kaplan-Myrth’s potential breach of conduct fell short of the required number of votes, barely missing the required eight supporter mark with seven votes in favor and four abstentions.

Dickson labelled Kaplan-Myrth a bully post-meeting, while Kaplan-Myrth defended herself by stating that the situation was a political and character attack. Kaplan-Myrth, who had been subjected to violent and antisemitic attacks before her term as trustee, also expressed her ongoing dissatisfaction with the lack of resolution in the conflict.

The board’s efforts to mediate the dispute however proved unsuccessful, leading to the initiation of a formal review policy and the involvement of an independent third-party investigator, which ultimately failed to garner enough support to declare a breach in conduct.

Dickson, feeling severely wronged, demanded a public apology. She pointed out that Kaplan-Myrth’s messages started off as reasonable requests for support on a mask mandate, but soon devolved into insensitive and insulting remarks, causing damage that needed reparations. In response to this, Kaplan-Myrth bemoaned the character assassination she had been subjected to from the start of her tenure.

Despite this public airing of grievances, the decision to reimplement a mask mandate in schools was eventually vetoed. This led to further concerns being raised about the trustees’ ability to carry on with their duties effectively.

Blackburn, another trustee, was particularly disturbed by the situation, professing a lack of hope in the board’s capability to heal and move forward from this controversy. Dickson was left questioning how they could strive for fair and just decisions for the students under such circumstances.

Although a majority of the board agrees that Kaplan-Myrth’s behavior was unfitting of a school board trustee, they are determined to maintain accountability as they proceed into the new school year. Kaplan-Myrth, while glad the vote swung in her favor, stated that the result was not a victory and underscored that being a Jew in politics in Ottawa was an ongoing challenge.

This is not an anomaly. The province has previously intervened in instances where school boards are unable to resolve their issues, such as when Ontario’s education minister in 2020 appointed a supervisor over the Peel District School Board due to instances of anti-Black racism and Islamophobia. Although they regained control a year later, it is left to see if the province will intervene in the ongoing OCDSB debacle.

In a closing remark, Cathy Abraham of the Ontario Public School Boards Association noted that while disagreements are a part of the process, the key issue here was to find a way to move forward. Following this arduous special meeting, the OCDSB dedicated a section on the website to assure stakeholders that the matter is now concluded.