After months of mounting demands for her resignation, a string of York Region District School Board members called in no uncertain terms for trustee Nancy Elgie to step down during a fiery meeting Monday night — but not before tensions came to a boiling point.
"Trust cannot be rebuilt," board chair Loralea Carruthers said to applause and cheers from the audience.
"I've said that since day one that she needs to do the right thing, and right now you've heard from the trustees around the table that that right thing is a resignation."
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The calls came after Elgie said, in a statement delivered by her son, that she would not resign. Instead the 82-year-old offered a voluntary 3-6 month sanction from her post. In the statement, Elgie said she was heartsick after being heard allegedly using the N-word to refer to a mother-of-three Charline Grant — something she claimed was the result of poor judgement caused by a brain injury.
'A suspension alone is not enough'
"I used a horrible word even though it wasn't intentional," the statement read by Stewart Elgie said. "I know how hurtful that word is given the terrible legacy of racism in our society today… A suspension alone is not enough."
"So, resign!" some shouted.
"I believe it's important and just that when a person holding an office makes an error of this nature it's in the public interest to have them be part of the subsequent process of learning," the statement continued. "These are important principles we teach to our students and we should apply them to ourselves."
Part of the agenda for Monday's meeting was to consider a motion for an integrity commissioner that would review issues related to the trustee code of conduct. The motion wasn't heard as tensions reached a boiling point following Elgie's statement, but will be tabled at a future meeting, Carruthers told CBC Toronto.
Also on the agenda for Monday's meeting but not discussed was an announcement about Black History Month.
Last month, Elgie issued a letter of apology for the slur made against Grant in November. Grant didn't hear the slur herself, but told CBC Toronto, parents who did hear it told her it was in fact the N-word.
Elected officials cannot be fired, chair says
Adding to the pain, Grant said, the slur came after she'd filed a complaint alleging her son had suffered discrimination at his Woodbridge-area school.
Last week, Elgie announced she would be going on indefinite medical leave, saying she had fallen on a cement patio in October and suffered a concussion. The claim sparked a firestorm of controversy amongst parents skeptical about why it took months to offer up the explanation — and whether a brain injury could explain a racial slur.
Following Elgie's statement Monday, several in the audience walked out of the meeting demanding board members hold a vote of no confidence.
The vote didn't happen.
But that didn't stop Carruthers, along with vice-chair Corrie McBain and a chorus of trustees including Susan Geller and Juanita Nathan, to openly call for Elgie's resignation, with some student trustees doing the same.
"The only way that I see out of this is that she needs to resign. I've said since the beginning that she needs to do what's required," Carruthers said, adding many of her colleagues agree.
However, in a statement Thursday, the chair said trustees do not, as elected officials, have the authority to fire a fellow board member.
Code of conduct review possible
But, she noted, the Education Act does allow trustees to launch a code of conduct complaint if a colleague commits a breach. The process is typically lengthy, expensive and findings aren't always made public, she acknowledged.
Even if a breach is confirmed, the list of possible sanctions is limited, Carruthers said. Consequences could include censuring or barring a trustee from some meetings.
In November, Ontario Education Minister Minister Mitzie Hunter demanded an action plan from the board on how it plans to address allegations of Islamophobia and systemic racism — saying she wanted an answer within two months.
Parents criticized the board's response to Hunter, saying it provided no concrete details on how it would do so.
One of the most prominent of those cases involved Ghada Sadaka, principal of Sir Wilfrid Laurier Public School in Markham, who published several posts on Facebook about Islam and refugees that some parents reported as offensive. Sadaka later apologized for the "discriminatory postings," one of which suggested banning burkas in Europe.
As for Grant, she says Elgie reached out to her asking to meet in-person for the first time since the slur was uttered.
"We have agreed to meet to with her face-to-face so that we can educate her on where that hurt is coming from, where the word is coming from and what it means… Speaking with her face-to-face, I'm hoping she can hear that."