Toronto

York's Catholic school board investigating conflict allegations against trustee

At least two internal investigations are underway at the York Catholic District School Board in connection with a controversial move that could see a popular school in Maple closed, even though its at full capacity.

Proposed closing of popular school triggers protests

York Catholic District School Board Trustee Teresa Ciaravella, who represents Vaughan Ward 1, is being investigated by the board after allegations from parents that she has a conflict of interest, the board confirmed Thursday. (Faceboook)

At least two internal investigations are underway at the York Catholic District School Board in connection with a controversial move that could see a popular school in Maple closed, even though it's at full capacity.

CBC Toronto has learned that one of the investigations is focussing on conflict of interest allegations against Trustee Teresa Ciaravella, who operates a daycare in her ward near Rutherford Road and Keele Street.

Parents say Ciaravella has backed the closure of Our Lady of Peace Catholic Elementary School (OLP), which board staff say is 97 per cent full. If the closure is approved, about 250 OLP students would move to Father John Kelly Catholic Elementary School.

The school is about 600 metres from Ciaravella's  Loving Children Daycare.

More than 100 parents and students from OLP turned out in frigid weather Thursday morning to loudly protest the closure of their school.

More than 100 parents and students gathered in front of Our Lady of Peace Catholic Elementary School in Maple Thursday morning to protest the school's proposed closure. (Mike Heenan/CBC News)

"We specifically moved into this area because we had a school in a fully residential area," said Frank Bilotta, who has three children at the school. "We just want a fair process, and we want answers."

The board's proposal — which hasn't yet been approved by trustees — calls for the closure of OLP this June. Its French immersion students would be transferred to Blessed Trinity Catholic Elementary School about four kilometres away, and the English-track students would go to Father John Kelly, less than two kilometres away.

A board report says that's the most efficient solution to declining enrolment in south Maple.

Parent Frank Bilotta, who has three children at OLP, helped organize Thursday's demonstration. (Mike Heenan/CBC News)

But the protesting parents say a letter they obtained through freedom-of-Information legislation shows the closure is a foregone conclusion.

The letter, from a senior staff member at Blessed Trinity to teachers, is dated Sept. 2, 2016 and states the closure of OLP has been approved by the board — months before trustees were scheduled to vote on it, and before parents had had a chance to voice their opinions.

Board spokesperson Sonia Gallo told CBC Toronto Thursday that the contents of that letter, and why it was passed on to staff members, are under investigation by the board.

Despite Thursday morning's sub-zero temperatures, students and their parents gathered in front of OLP in Maple to protest against a plan that they believe will see the school closed at the end of this school year. (Mike Heenan/CBC News)

She wouldn't give details of the investigation into Ciaravella's conduct, saying it's still in progress, but she said it began on Jan. 24.

"We did receive some feedback from parents in that Maple school community alleging some infractions against that particular trustee, and so we are in the middle of an investigation."

Two students from OLP in Ciaravella's ward stay at her daycare, according to Gallo.

Board vote on Feb. 28

Ciaravella has not yet responded to repeated phone calls and emails from CBC Toronto.

If she's found to have violated the provincial Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, she could be forced to vacate her seat.

The board is scheduled to vote on the plan to close OLP and divide its students between Father Kelly and Blessed Trinity schools on Feb.  28.

About the Author

Michael Smee

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Michael Smee has worked in print, radio, TV and online journalism for many years. You can reach him at michael.smee@cbc.ca