Principals ordered to confiscate letter demanding ‘transparency’ in York board
The York Region school board caused an uproar among principals by demanding they intercept a letter sent to all parent councils — even ordering them to send the document, “including the envelope it arrived in,” to head office.
But, just two days later, the board backed down from the unusual demand after the Ontario Principals’ Council intervened, expressing concerns they’d heard in a flood of questions and complaints from members over the directive, which targetted a controversial letter from a parent coalition.
“What kind of relationship will we have with our families and communities when they feel we are going to go and take their mail and send it to the board office?” said one York principal, who did not wish to be identified for fear of reprisal.
“It is unfair for the board to do this to us and make us act as police. Some of our communities, it took us a long time to build trust and all this does is ruin all our work. But I feel like this does not matter to our board anymore.”
The email sent out by senior staff last Wednesday told principals to confiscate the “anonymous letters (sent) via postal delivery to the attention of the school and school council chairs,” who head the advisory body comprising mostly parents.
“The content of these letters continues to be unfounded and the author(s) of such letters continue to act anonymously,” said the email from associate directors Leslie Johnstone and Margaret Roberts, obtained by the Star. “Please put the letter, including the envelope it arrived in, into a confidential envelope and send it.”
The unsigned letter the board references is two pages long, and from a parent group calling itself the Coalition for Good Governance. Among other things, it details the Star’s ongoing investigation of the York Region District School Board, which has raised questions about the board’s leadership as well as allegations of trustee interference, and an unusual 10-year contract granted to an inexperienced director who was also guaranteed a job for life once it expires. The Star has also uncovered a worsening climate at the board that some parents and staff have characterized as a culture of fear.
The Star reached out to the coalition, but received an automated response saying that due to the volume of emails, not every one receives a reply.
The coalition’s letter, which includes a contact email address, also urges parents “to become informed and involved in the issues that face all of our children in the YRDSB … It is only if we come together as concerned parents and taxpayers with a strong voice and message, can we hold the YRDSB accountable for their actions and demand total transparency.”
Following inquiries from the provincial body that represents principals, on Friday afternoon the board sent out a clarification that said “letters addressed to the school only” should be sent in, “so that they can be submitted to the York Regional Police for their ongoing investigation.”
Letters to school council chairs, it said, “should be delivered … as they normally would” and chairs are then asked to forward them to police.
Because such correspondence “is the subject of an ongoing police investigation,” board spokesperson Licinio Miguelo said he could not comment. He said the board did not wish to release any further information about the nature of the investigation or why police had been contacted in the first place.
Const. Laura Nicolle of York Regional Police said officers investigate anything that is reported to them and only release information if charges are warranted.
Brian Serafini, president of the Ontario Principals’ Council, said after receiving calls and emails expressing serious concerns about the directive, and “since we were unsure what the reason was for the instruction, we reached out to the board to ascertain why they had provided the direction to principals.”
He said the council was “concerned about why the directive was issued and how it was to be carried out.”
Labour and employment lawyer Muneeza Sheikh, a partner with the firm Levitt and Grosman, called the directive legal — but otherwise questionable.
“At the end of the day, the board will likely take the position that they, like any employer, have the right to run their business in a manner that they see fit. Part and parcel of that autonomy gives them the right to filter the mail,” said Sheikh.
“It is most certainly unethical, because it creates roadblocks to public accountability, but it is not illegal.”
This is not the first time the board’s senior team has directed staff to avoid discussion of the controversies it finds itself in.