Kitchener-Waterloo

Waterloo regional school board to hear from community after teacher expelled for stand on LGBTQ+ books

Waterloo Region District School Board trustees will hear from community members tonight who are expected to speak on the value of LGBTQ+ books in schools, a week after concerns were raised about a teacher's stand on the library review process.

Teacher said she didn't 'question the rights of transpersons in any way'

Trustees of the Waterloo Regional District School Board met virtually on Jan. 17. They heard several delegations, including from elementary school teacher Carolyn Burjoski, whose presentation was stopped over concerns her comments violated the Ontario Human Rights Code. (YouTube)

Elected trustees of the Waterloo Region District School Board will hear from at least half a dozen community members Monday night who plan to speak on the value of LGBTQ+ books in local schools. 

The meeting comes a week after a teacher making a delegation to the same group of trustees was told to end her presentation early. There were concerns the teacher's remarks were violating the Ontario Human Rights Code, which provides protections based on gender identity or gender expression.

Carolyn Burjoski's presentation on Jan. 17 was about the school board's library review process.

The board is looking into how new books are introduced and old books are pulled from local schools

Burjoski said a case could be made that there were books in the public school library system that could be considered misleading.

She also said she felt some of the books now available to students are inappropriate for young readers and gave two examples:

  • A book about a middle-school student who is asexual.
  • A book about a 12-year-old trans boy. 

During her presentation, Burjoski was stopped by Waterloo Region District School Board chair Scott Piatkowski, and eventually trustees voted 5-4 to end the teacher's delegation before she finished. 

Chair stands by ruling to expel teacher

"Stopping the delegate, expelling them from the meeting is something that I never expected or hoped to do as chair, and I hope I don't have to do again," said Piatkowski in an interview with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo. "I warned them, I asked them to change direction, they continued down the path that they were headed and ultimately I ruled that they shouldn't continue.

"I am happy to stand by my ruling and be judged accordingly."

While school board meetings are now virtual, streamed online and posted to YouTube, the school board removed the video, saying in a statement "the board was concerned about potential violations to the [Ontario Human Rights] Code and to the harm that could affect our students, staff and communities in Waterloo Region."

In that statement, the school board also expressed "deep regret for any harm caused to the transgender community." 

CBC Kitchener-Waterloo has contacted Burjoski for comment. Her reply was a video segment of her presentation to the board on Jan. 17 that was later removed from YouTube.

Teacher subject of 'formal investigation'

In a video statement posted to YouTube on Jan. 21, Burjoski said that when her presentation was ended by the trustees, she was "ejected" from the meeting, and the next morning, the school district's human resources department told her not to report to her regular duties. 

"I was immediately 'assigned to home,' pending a formal investigation and banned from contacting my colleagues and students," said Burjoski in her video statement. 

"I have been silenced and punished. Meanwhile, board members have taken to radio, television, social media to grossly misrepresent my remarks. My few comments expressed concerns about age-inappropriate sexual content. I did not and do not question the rights of transpersons to exist in any way."

Burjoski did not acknowledge comments she made in the board meeting that the books may have been "misleading."

She said she feels "cancel culture" needs to end and "respectful dialogue is the core of democracy," and ended the video with a vow the community would hear more from her in the future. 

CBC has not been able to confirm Burjoski's employment status with the Waterloo Region District School Board. The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario said that information is confidential.

Tonight's school board meeting starts at 7 p.m. ET and can be streamed here.

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