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Ontario’s education minister orders review of York Region school board

Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter says she had previously asked the York Region District School Board to take steps to resolve issues, but has not been satisfied with the measures taken.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Ontario's Education Minister has appointed two investigators to look into allegations of racism and a lack of financial accountability at the York Region District School Board.

Mitzie Hunter said on Thursday that she had previously asked the board, located north of Toronto, to take steps to resolve issues, but has not been satisfied with the measures taken.

"There have been significant and growing concerns from parents and community members regarding governance and equity issues in the York Region District School Board," according to Ms. Hunter's statement. "These include allegations of systemic racism, concerns about the board's equity and inclusive education policies, accountability for spending on trustees' international travel, and deteriorating relationships between the trustees, the director of education and the board's senior staff."

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Most recently, a trustee came under fire for using a racial slur to refer to a black parent. The trustee apologized for her language, but parents have called for her resignation and asked public officials to demand it.

Questions have also been raised about trustees' travel expenses, as well as concerns about how the board handled an investigation into anti-Muslim Facebook posts by a principal in Markham.

The school board's director, J. Philip Parappally, said in a statement that all staff will co-operate fully with the investigation.

"I want to assure you that we take these issues very seriously, and will not shy away from the difficult conversations and the important work that lies ahead to address these concerns," Mr. Parappally said.

The investigators will act in the same way that consultant Margaret Wilson did when she was commissioned by then-education minister Liz Sandals. Ms. Wilson chronicled a litany of problems at the Toronto District School Board, including micromanaging by the director and fears among many employees that their e-mails and telephone calls were monitored. The appointment of a reviewer was prompted by a continuing investigation by The Globe and Mail that led to the departure of the board's chair and director.

In the case of York Region, Ms. Hunter said she met with the board's chair and director in November to discuss the concerns and asked school officials to submit an action plan by mid-January.

"Unfortunately," Ms. Hunter said, "their proposal also fails to address these issues."

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The investigators will review whether trustees and the director are fulfilling their legislated duties and recommend ways to improve relationships at the board, Ms. Hunter said. The two investigators are Patrick Case, the chairman of the board of Ontario's Human Rights Legal Support Centre, and Suzanne Herbert, a former deputy education minister.

A final report with recommendation is due by April 7.

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