Petition calls for 'N-word'-using trustee to resign, but will it come to anything?

Ahead of tonight's special board meeting at the York Region District School Board, parents are calling on Nancy Elgie's resignation, a trustee who admitted to using a racial slur to refer to a parent. A petition has amassed more than 1,100 signatures.

Nancy Elgie apologized for using the racial slur against a parent last November

Charline Grant says she appreciates the apology from the York Region School Board trustee, but issues of systemic racism have long gone unaddressed under the watch of the board's current director. (Craig Chivers / CBC News)

Ahead of tonight's special board meeting at the York Region District School Board, parents are calling for the resignation of Nancy Elgie, a trustee who admitted to using a racial slur to refer to a parent. A petition has amassed more than 1,200 signatures.

Here's what you need to know ahead of the meeting.

Who is Nancy Elgie?

Elgie, 82, is a trustee for Georgina whose term will be up in 2018. She was elected to the board in 2000, and has been a trustee since. She also held the position of vice-chair in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015. Elgie is the widow of Dr. Robert Elgie, a former conservative MPP and cabinet minister under the government of Bill Davis.

What happened?

York Region District School Board Trustee Nancy Elgie has apologized after allegedly using a racial slur to refer to a black parent at a November meeting of the board. (York Region District School Board)

During a public meeting on Nov. 22, Elgie used the N-word in reference to Charline Grant, a parent. Elgie admitted to using the slur in a letter to Grant.

The apology

In Elgie's letter to Grant, she apologized and committed to equity training, adding that "as soon as my brain registered what I had said, I was overcome with shock and dismay. I felt heartsick and deeply ashamed to have said something so hurtful – even unintentionally – and so foreign to the values I have held throughout my entire life."

Grant told CBC Toronto that the apology doesn't do enough to solve the problem of systemic racism within the board, and she is calling on the board's director, Jegan-Philip Parappally, to step down.

No person who holds public office has reached out in sympathy or apologized to Grant.

What could happen tonight?

A trustee is a publicly elected official so cannot be removed from office, forced to step down or retire.

This leaves the school board with minimal power when it comes to disciplining trustees.

A petition, which has garnered more than a thousand signatures, will be presented at tonight's meeting, parents told CBC Toronto. 

But it's unlikely any action will be taken tonight.

"The petition would be received as an information item and would be scheduled during an upcoming information meeting for review by trustees," said Christina Choo-Hum, manager of corporate communications for the board.

If a formal complaint is launched against Elgie, alleging a breach of the YRDSB code of conduct for trustees, the possible sanctions are: 

  • Censure — a formal disapproval of actions.
  • Being barred from attending all or part of board meetings.
  • Being barred from sitting on board committees for a period of time.

According to the agenda for tonight's meeting, Nancy Elgie will be in attendance. 

What is a trustee's role?

According to the York Region District School Board, its 12 trustees set policy for more than 200 schools. Among other duties, they are responsible for developing board policies, addressing concerns from the community and monitoring the performance of the director of education.

Trustees do not receive a salary, but are given an honorarium of $23,472.26. The board chair receives an extra $10,000. The current director, Parappally, had a salary of $281,836.10 in 2016, up 40 per cent from 2015 according to Ontario's annual sunshine list.

Other board controversies

The YRDSB has been accused of systemic racism in the past and critics say the issue has long gone unaddressed. Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter called on the board to deliver an action plan stating how it will address allegations of Islamophobia and racism.

The board delivered that plan on Jan. 13 which promised to meet with parents and community members to build trust — but it was widely criticized for falsely delivering concrete details.

Here are some some of the other controversies the board faces: