Kitchener-Waterloo

What's in retired WRDSB teacher's $1.75 million defamation suit against board

A retired teacher with the Waterloo Region District School Board has filed a $1.75 million dollar defamation lawsuit against the school board and its chair. The woman's allegations have not been proven in court.

Carolyn Burjoski says reputation and mental health damaged; statements not proven in court

Former Waterloo Region District School Board teacher Carolyn Burjoski is pictured in a video posted to Youtube. (Youtube)

What started as a virtual delegation at a Waterloo Region District School Board trustees' meeting has snowballed into a $1.75 million dollar defamation lawsuit against the school board and its chair. 

Carolyn Burjoski, a now-retired English as a second language teacher, says her reputation and her mental health were harmed when a presentation she made to trustees was cut short during the January 17 meeting, and it was suggested she may have violated the province's human rights code. 

Burjoski's statement of claim alleges that in the days following the meeting, she became the centre of an "international news story" where she was unfairly described as transphobic and discriminatory.

"All of this was the result of [the chair's] and WRDSB's conduct and their false and malicious statements," the statement of claim says. Burjoski also says in the statement that she later suffered a nervous breakdown. 

None of Burjoski's allegations have been proven in court. 

The school board, and its chair, Chair Scott Piatkowski, declined to comment on the lawsuit. 

Concern about books with asexual, transgender protagonists

Burjoski's January presentation happened in the wake of an ongoing debate about how the school board edits its library collection. 

In her statement of claim, Burjoski said she was concerned about the appropriateness of certain books in elementary school libraries. 

Before her presentation was cut off, Burjoski gave two examples of books she objected to. The first had an asexual protagonist, the second had a transgender protagonist. 

Burjoski said she felt the first book could put pressure on kids to think sexually before they're ready. The second book made hormone treatments seem "simple or even cool," she said. 

During the presentation, Piatkowski first warned her against saying anything that could violate the province's human rights code. He later ended her presentation, saying the code includes gender identity and gender expression as protected grounds. 

"I felt that the delegate was erasing the existence of trans people, that they were essentially questioning whether people who identify as trans or non-binary had a right to exist and really that was the fundamental issue," Piatkowski told CBC K-W at the time. "It's not something I took lightly."

Placed on 'home assignment'

The WRDSB typically livestreams its trustees' meetings but a copy of this meeting was removed from YouTube and never reposted. 

In a memo, the board said it opted not to post the video due to concerns about human rights violations and potential harm to staff, students and community members. 

Burjoski's statement of claim said statements made by the board and by Piatkowski were damaging and that the decision not to post the video meant people didn't have the chance to hear for themselves what was said. 

She also objected to the board's decision to place her on "home assignment" the day after the meeting. This deprived her of the chance to carry out her final weeks before retirement with "dignity and respect," she said. 

The school board has not yet filed a statement of defence. The former teacher's allegations have not been proven in court.

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