Education minister orders 'urgent review' of York Region District School Board

Ontario’s education minister has ordered an “urgent review” of the York Region District School Board after she says the board failed to adequately address governance and equity issues within the board.

Mitzie Hunter wants report by April 7, with next steps for improving accountability and governance

Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter says the York Region District School Board has failed to make clear how it will address issues of governance and equity. (CBC)

Ontario's education minister has ordered an "urgent review" of the York Region District School Board after she says the board failed to adequately address governance and equity issues within the board.

Minister Mitzie Hunter issued a statement Thursday to say she has appointed two people to conduct the review: Patrick Case, a law professor and former trustee with what used to be the Toronto Board of Education, and Suzanne Herbert, a former deputy minister in Ontario, including deputy of education.

The move comes as the board remains embroiled in controversy over allegations of racism and other problems from parents and community members, including calls for a trustee to step down after she apologized for using a racial slur regarding a student's mother.

A petition calling for Nancy Elgie to resign her post as trustee has more than 1,500 signatures, but board chair Loralea Carruthers says the board has no authority to force a trustee, who is elected to his or her post, to step down. 

Elgie wrote a letter of apology last week to parent Charline Grant in which she admitted to using "a racial slur" when referring to Grant during a board meeting last November. Grant alleges that Elgie called her the N-word, which the trustee has not directly admitted. No one at the board has provided details about the results of an investigation into the incident.

YRDSB Chair responds 

In a written statement released Thursday, Carruthers said she welcomes Hunter's decision to conduct a thorough review of the board. 

"It is clear that there is a lot of hard work the Board must do to regain public trust," Carruthers said. "I am committed to doing this hard work together with you."

She went on to say she hopes to be "upfront and transparent" with parents and appreciates the willingness of people bringing forward their concerns regarding issues of systemic racism and Islamophobia within the board.

Carruthers also apologized to Grant and other parents in her statement for the hurt caused by Elgie's comments, saying she has "strongly urged [her] colleague to do what is required to make this right." 

Carruthers's statement does not specify what she thinks Elgie must do to rectify the situation, but the board chair does say she thinks the trustee's apology was "sincere."

Board dealing with several issues

The board has also been dealing with questions about trustees' travel expenses, as well as concerns about how it handled an investigation into controversial Facebook posts by a teacher in Markham.

On Thursday, Hunter noted that back in November, she asked board leadership to come up with a plan for dealing with these issues by Jan. 13. "Unfortunately, their proposal also fails to address these issues," Hunter said in a statement.

Hunter said she expects a final report with recommendations for next steps by April 7.

"The reviewers will recommend improvements, particularly regarding equity, accountability and transparency, to regain public confidence in the school board," Hunter said.

"In addition, they will recommend ways to improve the working relationships at the board, including amongst trustees, between the board and the director of education, between the director of education and senior staff, and with the community. In addition, they will review whether board members and the director of education are fulfilling their legislated duties.

Community responds

The National Council of Canadian Muslims applauded the minister's response Thursday. 

"It's clear that trust has been broken," the organization's spokeswoman Amira Elghawaby said in a news release.  "The Minister's decision to launch a review is being welcomed by many York families who now feel the serious concerns they have about their children's well-being are being heard."