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School board votes to censure EY trustee Cary-Meagher over comments about staff

EY school board trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher isn't happy about the province's directives to the board. -STAFF

EY school board trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher -STAFF

But trustee says complaint “trying to gag me.”

By Gary Webb-Proctor

At its February meeting last night the Toronto District School Board approved a staff report recommending it censure Ward 16 trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher because she “did not demonstrate respectful treatment and contributed to the creation of an intimidating work environment” for the board’s communications and media relations staff by criticizing their actions at a public meeting in October.

The board voted to approve recommendations from its Integrity Commissioner, Suzanne Craig, to censure her for the comments and to require a written apology to the complainants, says a press release issued at 11:45 p.m. last night by the board’s manager of Corporate and Social Media Relations, Ryan Bird.

The board also accepted another recommendation and will require a separate apology by the Beaches-East York trustee for also violating its Code of Conduct for trustees in relation to another staff member, with whom she was found to have used inappropriate language in a separate instance, for which she has already apologized by email.

However, Ms. Cary-Meagher, who has not spoken publicly about either investigation, is quoted by the commissioner as saying in response to the complaint by the communications staff, that she believes it amounts to “trying to gag me.”

The 17-year veteran of the TDSB board and previously a 13-year member of the defunct Toronto Board of Education is quoted as telling the investigation that “the Code of conduct is being used as an obstacle between a Trustee and her community.  People are trying to gag me.”

The code, which was updated last year after widespread 2016 publication of allegations that a “culture of fear” existed among TDSB staff, states that trustees must “refrain from abuse, bullying or intimidation, to ensure that the TDSB work environment is free from discrimination and harassment,” Ms. Craig’s report notes.

The investigation into the communications staff complaint revolved around Cary-Meagher’s comments to about 100 parents at an October 19 public meeting that she said called after receiving about 50 emails from parents angry about not knowing what was going on during a crisis at a school in her ward in September.

The board’s “communications team failed miserably” and “screwed up” in connection with the two-day “hold and secure” incident at the school, she told that meeting.  A “hold and secure” situation is one in which a school is locked down due to a perceived threat in the area surrounding it, usually on the advice of Toronto Police Service.

The communications staff, whom she did not name in her comments, were not present at the public meeting, to which Cary-Meagher did invite the area TDSB Superintendent, the school principal, and a representative from the local 55 Division of TPS.  She told the investigation that she didn’t invite the communications team because “this was a parent meeting and they needed to be heard not talked to.

“A great part was their dissatisfaction with the information they got and how they got it,” during the two-day lockdown, the trustee reportedly told Craig. “My sole contact was through the parents and they were large in number and very few, if any, were happy with the content, the frequency or the tone” of the communications from the board.

“And I am compelled to ask why the communications department does not know how to handle angry parents except with written material. When people are scared why would Communications not find an effective way to help them deal with their justifiable fear for the safety of their children,” Cary-Meagher said, according to the commissioner’s report.

The complaint alleged and the commissioner and the board agreed, however, that Cary-Meagher’s comments “unfairly maligned the professional reputation of the Complainants and failed to demonstrate respect for their professional handling of a sensitive school and public safety issue,”

“In stating that Communications staff ‘failed miserably’ and ‘dropped the ball’ to parents, in the absence of the very staff who were onsite during the event and who could have provided answers to the parents’ questions, the Respondent created an intimidating work environment and maligned the long-standing and impeccable careers of the Complainants,” Craig wrote.

“Publicly criticizing individual members of staff in a way that casts aspersions on their professional competence and credibility is tantamount to workplace intimidation,” concludes staff member Craig, who was appointed to a five-year term as commissioner in 2016.

The second complaint, that the trustee repeatedly referred to a person not present as “dyke” during a November meeting that included board employees, was also upheld by the Integrity Commissioner.  In that case Cary-Meagher had already, in an email sent to the board on Sunday, apologized “unreservedly” for her behaviour, said she was “profoundly sorry” and agreed to take human rights/harassment prevention training sessions.

The trustee, who also announced in the Sunday email that she would take a “leave of absence” to ponder her behaviour in that case, has not indicated when that will end nor whether she intends to seek re-election in November.

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