The York Region District School Board trustee who used a racial slur regarding a student's mother missed Tuesday night's meeting as dozens of parents presented a petition calling for her resignation.

Instead, Nancy Elgie, who is in her early 80s, submitted a letter to the board in which she said wanted to explain her actions. It expanded on the letter of apology the trustee from the Town of Georgina had written to Charline Grant last week, in which she admitted to using "a racial slur" when referring to the parent of three black children who attend York district schools.

Grant alleges that Elgie called her the N-word, something that the trustee has not directly admitted. 

The letter

"I can only imagine how upsetting this incident was to Ms. Charline Grant ... and to other members of the black community, who have suffered systemic racism for far too long," Elgie wrote in the letter released at the board meeting Tuesday night. "It is plainly unacceptable that anyone in public office would use such a word to describe another person."

The trustee alleges, however, that "her words came out horribly wrong" while she was speaking with a colleague in November about the concerns Grant had raised regarding prejudicial treatment of her children at school.

Nancy Elgie

York Region District School Board trustee Nancy Elgie says she suffered a head injury in the fall and misspoke when she used a racial slur in November. (York Region District School Board)

"Still suffering from the after-effects of a head injury earlier in the fall, I struggled for words as I tried to identify Ms. Grant by referring to the concerns that she and others had raised … concerns [that] included the use of this ugly racial slur," Elgie wrote. "While I know that all of us have our words come out [the] wrong way sometimes (particularly as we age), in this case the words were extremely hurtful ones."

She said that she learned later that someone else had overheard the conversation, but alleged that she found herself under investigation by that point and was unable to talk about the incident until this week.

Board silent on results of its investigation

The board's director has not spoken about the results of the investigation into Elgie. It's unclear what, if any, disciplinary measures will be taken.

Instead, director J. Philip Parappally released a statement Friday, noting that racism is unacceptable, but said no one can comment on the probe as it involves a trustee.

That's not enough for those parents who say they want to know that their concerns have been resolved. 

Grant has repeatedly criticized Parappally's leadership on racism and equity and called for his resignation, something echoed by other parents Tuesday night.

Elgie, however, was publicly elected to her position, which means she cannot be removed from office or forced to retire. She can be barred from board meetings and committees for a period of time if it's found that she's breached the board's code of conduct. 

York HQ

Elgie skipped a school board meeting Tuesday citing "medical issues" but said she wants to work with colleagues to repair relationships within the community. (York Region District School Board)

More than 1,500 people had signed a petition calling for Elgie's resignation on Tuesday night.

Her letter made no mention of the request.

Instead, she said that she was away "dealing with medical issues" but has asked the board to have an equity expert make recommendations and what trustees can do to "promote healing, awareness, education and understanding." 

Board chairwoman Loralea Carruthers noted that trustees have already agreed to take part in equity training. It was one of the steps in the action plan the board submitted to Education Minister Mitzie Hunter to address complaints of systemic racism and Islamophobia within the school system.

Because the board has no power to enforce a request for a trustee's resignation, Carruthers said board members will meet with parents to try to address their concerns in other ways. 

'Own the problem'

But Grant said that Elgie's resignation is essential to repairing her trust in the board. 

The mother of three said that while she accepts the trustee's apology, she feels the former child psychologist should no longer hold a position of public office. 

The board also needs to be publicize the results of its investigation into Elgie's comments — and those connected to separate complaints of racism levelled by other parents, she said.

"They do investigations and we never know the result," Grant said. "I want them to own that they have the problem."

With files from Nick Boisvert