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Scandal-plagued York Region school board dismisses director of education

The York Region District School Board has dismissed its director of education, J. Philip Parappally.

York Region school board

The York Region District School Board has dismissed its director of education, just a week after a provincial report revealed a litany of problems facing the scandal-plagued school district.

In a statement on Wednesday, chair Loralea Carruthers said the school board, north of Toronto, would look for a new director and wished J. Philip Parappally the "best on the next chapter of his life."

"We look forward to getting back to serving parents and students with integrity and excellence in an environment that is frugal, transparent, and free of bias," Ms. Carruthers said.

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Mr. Parappally came under fire in recent months for his lack of leadership, his intimidation tactics and being awarded an unprecedented 10-year contract.

A report by two provincially appointed investigators, released last Tuesday, found a culture of fear and distrust at what they described as a dysfunctional school board. The report criticized trustees for failing to denounce racism and cutting deals to further personal agendas, while senior staff had laptops surreptitiously sent for forensic testing, the investigators found.

The investigators laid blame on trustees and the director of education for a lack of strong judgment and leadership.

The report called for sweeping changes at the school board, including establishing an integrity commissioner to handle complaints.

Education Minister Mitzie Hunter threatened a formal investigation, which was one step away from being taken over by a provincial supervisor, if the board did not act quickly to make changes.

The report found that Mr. Parappally fostered a sense of distrust at the board and requested some senior staff "spy" on other members of the team. The report also found that laptops were secretively sent for forensic testing to determine who was trying to undermine the director.

Ms. Hunter was forced to conduct an investigation of the York board after concerns were raised by parents and the community about its lack of financial accountability, how allegations of racism and Islamophobia were improperly handled, and how fractured relations started to seep into schools. Almost half the students at the board are visible minorities, making it one of the most diverse in the province.

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Recently, trustee Nancy Elgie, who was embroiled in controversy for using a racial slur against a black parent, stepped down. The report denounced the other trustees for not filing a complaint against Ms. Elgie.

Similarly, trustees failed to show leadership in an investigation into anti-Muslim Facebook posts by a principal in Markham, the report found. "There was a complete absence among board members of any appreciation of their obligation to take a strong and unequivocal stand against racism and intolerance at the YRDSB," the investigators stated. "We feel compelled to denounce the board's responses."

Charline Grant, a parent, said dismissing the director was a good first step for the York board. "There's a lot more work to be done, but I will celebrate this victory today," she said on Wednesday.

Ms. Grant was the parent referred to by a racial slur by Ms. Elgie.

Ms. Grant said she is looking to start a petition that calls on all trustees to step down.

"We cannot have any serious changes with the same people in place," she said. "We cannot teach them something they're not. They don't value equity and diversity. They say it, but their actions don't display it at all."

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About the Author
Education Reporter

Caroline Alphonso is an education reporter for The Globe and Mail. More

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