Nova Scotia

Parents want answers after school principal secretly put on leave

Lamar Eason had been off the job at Bayview Community School in Mahone Bay, N.S., since Nov. 12. Parents, many of them supportive of the principal, only learned the news through Facebook last week.

Situation shows 'the dark side' of no longer having elected school boards in Nova Scotia, parents say

The principal of Bayview Community School is back at work, but parents still have questions about why he was gone in the first place. (Emma Smith/CBC)

Parents in Mahone Bay, N.S., want an investigation into the body that oversees public education in their area after a school principal was secretly placed on administrative leave last month.

Lamar Eason had been off the job at Bayview Community School since Nov. 12 before parents of students learned the news through Facebook last week.

The South Shore Regional Centre for Education still hasn't said why the P-9 school's new principal was gone, even though it has apologized to parents for how it communicated the matter.

"I think they handled it horribly," said Bill Kowalski, who has a daughter in Grade 8. "My daughter, for example, asked where Mr. Eason was and the teacher flat out told her that she could not speak about it or she would get in trouble."

A principal who was put on leave is back, but parents in Mahone Bay still want answers. And an investigation into their regional centre of education. CBC's Emma Smith has the details. 8:59

Eason was reinstated on Friday, and was back on the job as of Monday, but parents say their fight isn't over. Many appear to be in support of Eason, and a petition that had demanded he be reinstated garnered more than 500 signatures.

Parents say without elected school boards or regular public meetings, there's nowhere for them to turn when they don't agree with how their children's school is run.

They want an investigation into the regional centre for education and its superintendent, Scott Milner.

"I think what we're seeing here is the dark side of that where we have a person who doesn't feel accountable to anybody really, and that's just not acceptable," said Kowalski.

Parents created a website and petition after learning that Eason was put on administrative leave. (WeSupportLamar.com)

The only explanation about Eason's leave comes from an email the vice-principal sent to parents on Nov. 26. 

Craig Pottie wrote that an HR complaint had been filed against Eason stemming from an incident that happened during the last school year when Eason was race relations co-ordinator with the South Shore Regional School Board.

The complaint was filed this fall, but has nothing to do with a student, the school, or Eason's duties as principal, Pottie wrote.

Parents want to know why the complaint was filed months after the fact, when the school board's own respectful workplace policy stated there's a 90-day window unless special exceptions are made. 

Parents gathered at the Mahone Bay school on Monday morning to welcome Eason back. It's unclear whether he's still being investigated for an HR complaint that stems from an incident that happened last year. (Emma Smith/CBC)

CBC News tried to reach Eason for comment but didn't hear back, although he sent an email to parents on Friday. 

"It has been very hard being away from doing what I love most which is working with students," Eason wrote. "There are still a number of things that are on-going that I am unable to discuss, but hope that we can keep moving forward for the great learners at BCS."

It's unclear whether the HR investigation is still on-going. 

Mojgan Mahmoodi, who has a daughter in Grade 3, said she's not worried about Eason's ability to do his job — she's worried that Milner isn't being upfront with the school community.

"Either he needs to come out, come to school instead of sending others … talk to the parents, clarify and explain why this has happened or we are asking him to resign," said Mahmoodi.

This is Eason's first year as principal at the P-9 school in Mahone Bay. (Emma Smith/CBC)

Milner declined to be interviewed.

A spokesperson for the regional centre for education said there's very little they can say since it's a personnel issue. 

"We recognize that there has been confusion and concern, and we do apologize for our lack of communication with the parents in the past two weeks, and our promise is we will do better in the future," said Angelina McConnell.

This spring, Education Minister Zach Churchill dissolved the elected regional school boards in favour of one provincial advisory council. 

Tim Merry, co-chair of the school advisory committee, said while he can see why it seemed like a good idea, it's left a communication vacuum.

"There's no way that the leadership of our regional centre of education could be held accountable," said Merry. "So anybody who wanted to give feedback on the leadership has to go through the leadership to give feedback."

A spokesperson for Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill declined an intervew, citing privacy reasons. (Canadian Press)

He said parents won't go away quietly. 

"I think there is something rotten in how this regional centre is being led, and we have to keep the pressure on."

A spokesperson for the Department of Education declined an interview, saying it's an HR matter the department can't discuss for privacy reasons.

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning