Bullying and harassment allegations against Vancouver school trustees trigger unprecedented crisis

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      A Vancouver school board trustee says the district is facing a “very serious situation”.

      Fraser Ballantyne related that he hasn’t seen a crisis like what broke out in the news last Friday (September 30) in the 40 years that he has worked in various capacities in the district.

      Ballantyne was referring to reports that allegations of bullying and harassment have been made against some members of the Vancouver school board.

      “It’s unprecedented,” Ballantyne told the Straight in a phone interview Monday (October 3).

      The trustee related that staff morale has collapsed following a number of events that occurred in the last several days.

      These include the departures of superintendent Scott Robinson and secretary-treasurer Russell Horswill, who have both gone on medical leave.

      This was followed by allegations in a memo by the B.C. School Superintendents Association to Education Minister Mike Bernier of bullying and harassment in the district.

      WorkSafeBC is investigating allegations that certain trustees are bullying senior management staff.

      “I don’t think it’s ever happened before where a superintendent has gone on medical leave, and then there’s been a complaint lodged regarding the behaviour of trustees,” Ballantyne said.

      Ballantyne also claimed that in addition to Robinson and Horswill, three other senior executives have gone on leave.

      Ballantyne related that he observed low morale among staff members when he talked to them at the school board offices last September 30.

      “On a scale of one to 10, the morale was about negative five,” he said. “People were absolutely crestfallen, and absolutely, I would say, extremely demoralized.”

      Past 10 p.m. last Friday, Ballantyne and three of his colleagues with the Non-Partisan Association, namely Christopher Richardson, Penny Noble, and Stacy Robertson, issued a media release stating that they “recognize the tough circumstances staff are operating under and will continue to support staff through the budget process and into the future”.

      Without naming Mike Lombardi of Vision Vancouver, Ballantyne and the other NPA trustees urged the school board’s chair to “take the recent allegations of harassment and bullying seriously and ensure staff has a supportive work environment”.

      In a phone interview with the Straight on Monday (October 3), Lombardi said that he is disappointed with Ballantyne for claiming that three other executives have gone on medical leave.

      Lombardi said that this confidential information has not been officially communicated by staff to the board, and that it has not been made public yet.

      Lombardi also denied that the district is in crisis. “I’m very confident that we have tremendous stability and leadership in our district.”

      Lombardi said that the board is cooperating fully with WorkSafeBC.

      “I certainly don’t feel I’ve done any of that,” he said about claims of bullying and harassment against certain trustees, who have not been named so far.

      The Vancouver school board has appointed Steve Cardwell as acting superintendent.

      In the phone interview on October 3, Ballantyne said: “It’s a very serious situation that our board needs to acknowledge, and the behaviour of trustees.”