Trustee Carol Ann Sloat and the GEDSB have been embroiled in a private battle going back to at least May 2023, when a board-imposed ban kept Sloat from attending — or even virtually watching as a member of the public — board meetings.Celeste Percy-Beauregard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Barred trustee Carol Ann Sloat took her seat at the Grand Erie District School Board table Monday night for her first regular board meeting in over a year.

The longtime trustee has been excluded from attending board meetings — or even watching them as a member of the public — as a sanction for offences that neither the board nor Sloat have explicitly explained in public.

But her homecoming was short-lived, because about 20 minutes into the public portion of the meeting, she was once again ousted — this time until January 2025.

The board room was filled with students, there to accept awards, with local union representatives overflowing into the hallway, when board chair Susan Gibson read from an in-camera report.

It said Sloat was asked to return in-camera documents before leaving a previous closed meeting.

Gibson said Sloat refused and left with the documents, agitated.

The report said an investigation came to the conclusion that Sloat breached at least six sections of the code of conduct that governs trustees.

The named sections included treating others with respect, maintaining the confidentiality of information in closed sessions, acting with unimpeachable conduct, and working with other trustees in a spirit of trust and respect.

When The Spectator asked the school board for a written copy of the updated conduct breaches and sanctions, Dave Smouter, manager of communications and community relations, said it would be “a couple days until last night’s minutes are completed and approved.”

The Spectator was further told specific questions relating to the code of conduct sections and sanctions would also have to wait until the minutes are completed and approved.

When asked why information that was already presented at the public meeting couldn’t be confirmed before then, Smouter did not respond. 

In the closed meetings, there are 11 other trustees, eight senior administrators, two executive assistants and two lawyers for the school board.

But Sloat isn’t permitted to bring in her lawyer, she told The Spectator when reached by phone Tuesday afternoon.

The notes the board asked her to return included her personal notes, and she has been allowed to keep these on three previous occasions to share with her lawyer, she said. 

“So the process has changed but without telling me the process has been changed,” she said. 

The newest set of bans — which also bars Trustee Carol Ann Sloat from attending committee meetings until 2026 — comes just a week after a divisional court judge granted a stay for some of the sanctions the board had previously imposed on her, while she awaits a judicial hearing of her case in October. 

Beyond the boundaries of the Education Act? 

The newest set of bans also bar Sloat from attending committee meetings until 2026.

Just last week, a divisional court judge granted a stay for some of the sanctions the board had previously imposed on her, which would have seen her return to committee meetings while she awaits a judicial review of her case in October.

In Justice Michael Gibson’s June 18 verdict, he noted there are “clearly significant issues to be tried in this matter, regarding the process followed by the (school board), the reasonableness of its decisions, its jurisdiction, and the proportionality of sanctions imposed.”

Sloat told The Spectator she is “truly concerned” some of the sanctions are not permitted under the Education Act. 

Michael Barrett, former president of Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA), told The Spectator the Education Act “is quite clear with regards to the level of punishment that can actually take place” in a situation like this.

He questioned whether Sloat’s punishment fits the crime.

“On the advice of lawyers and with the involvement of directors, (school boards) are stepping way beyond the boundaries first intended by the Education Act,” he said. 

Subsequently, individuals are being banned from meetings “for months and months and months on end,” Barrett said.

He suggested boards are increasingly turning to these bans as a “methodology” for shutting down “errant voices.”

“Just because you don’t like what somebody’s saying, doesn’t give you the authority or ability to be able to continuously utilize processes and methodologies to shut down people, and that’s what’s happening,” said Barrett.

And while some trustees have acted outside of public good, it’s not always the case, Barrett said. 

“In my mind (Sloat’s) just questioning the process and the use of the process that’s outside of their own policy and bylaws. And when she has questioned it, she has been victimized …,” Barrett said.

Sloat told The Spectator she’s determined to keep fighting this.

“But at least I’m fighting with my money, not the school board money,” she said. 

The Spectator tried to reach board chair Susan Gibson and director of education JoAnna Roberto (through her assistant) by phone on Tuesday.

Neither responded before deadline.

Celeste Percy-Beauregard’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. The funding allows her to report on stories about Brant County. Reach her at cpercybeauregard@torstar.ca.

By Celeste Percy-Beauregard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 26, 2024 at 09:55

This item reprinted with permission from   The Spectator   Hamilton, Ontario
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