Several educators in Ontario are under investigation after posting comments about the war in the Middle East, as school boards grapple with how to balance their social-media policies and the heightened emotions surrounding the conflict.
In Brampton, a principal has been removed from his school while his board investigates a comment he posted that was critical of a news story about the rise in antisemitism since the start of the conflict.
In Toronto, a student equity program adviser is on a paid home assignment and being investigated after he participated in a pro-Palestinian student march and posted comments on social media.
And in Hamilton, a school-board trustee has been accused of code-of-conduct violations regarding her social-media posts criticizing Israel and calling for an end to the siege of Gaza.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said recently that educators should be cautious in their statements and would be held accountable for their actions by their school boards.
Most school boards have social-media policies that are meant to govern the actions of employees. However, the situation is proving to be a test for the public education system: How do boards honour identities and allow for freedom of speech while also providing a space where everyone feels safe?
Ralph Nigro, the president of the Ontario Principals’ Council, said school boards should pro-actively share their policies and their expectations with staff “in a thoughtful and purposive manner and avoid reactionary responses.”
Speaking on behalf of school administrators, he said board officials should “strive to ensure that any limitations on the constitutional rights of principals and vice-principals are minimal and prescribed in the interest of ensuring safe spaces for all students and staff.”
At the Peel District School Board, Richard Ward, an elementary-school principal in Brampton, was sent home last week and is under investigation, according to board spokesperson Malon Edwards, after he responded to a news story on the rise in antisemitism on the social-media platform X.
Mr. Ward declined comment when reached by e-mail.
Mr. Edwards said Peel has a social-media policy and that students and staff have the right to an environment that is respectful and free from discrimination.
“Our expectation for professional conduct among staff while exercising their freedom of expression in their personal lives is such that they carefully consider the position of power they hold within their school communities and the impact their conduct may have on students,” he said.
On social media, Mr. Lecce weighed in on the principal’s comment, calling it an “appalling lack of judgement from an individual in charge of caring for the safety of all students & staff.” He added: “I expect school leaders to bring us together, to stand up for values of civility, and denounce the sharp rise of antisemitism. Not enable it.”
In Toronto, Javier Dávila, a student equity program adviser, said on X that he was sent home “minutes after” he called out the Toronto District School Board for defending a Jewish advocacy group that he claimed was “fabricating lies about students” and for not supporting students who took part in a pro-Palestinian march and subsequently, he said, had received threats.
Reached by e-mail, Mr. Dávila declined comment “for fear of reprisal.”
Ryan Bird, the board’s spokesperson, said he could not provide specific details. However, he noted that Mr. Dávila’s online comments about the reason for his home assignment were incorrect.
Dawn Danko, the chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, declined to discuss details of an external investigation launched last month into trustee Sabreina Dahab’s social-media activity.
Although Ms. Dahab said her legal team has advised her not to comment on the code-of-conduct complaint against her, she shared a letter on social media that outlined her position. She wrote that the investigation was an attempt to silence her for her “vocal condemnation” of the Israeli government’s actions and to reprimand her for her “posts about protests that were calling for the end to the siege of Gaza.”
Kathy Bickmore, a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, said school boards are in a challenging position. She said it’s equally important for educators and school staff to be mindful of starting dialogue instead of shutting it down.
“School boards should keep in mind continually reopening environments for listening, learning, communicating across difficult differences … that enable conflict talk when things get hard,” Prof. Bickmore said.