Toronto Catholic school board trustees are being reprimanded by the Ontario government for rescinding a trespassing order against a father who had allegedly threatened the school's principal and physically assaulted a caretaker, after learning that his daughter had been cut from the soccer team.
Toronto Catholic District School Board trustees held a special meeting last week in which they overturned the trespassing order against the father, despite provincial legislation that requires school boards to maintain a safe school environment for staff and students. The move by the trustees raises questions about the scope of their power.
The principal is not at the school this week. The Ministry of Labour ruled Wednesday that trustees must reinstate the no-trespassing order against the father by Friday.
The school board's chair, Jo-Ann Davis, did not return phone calls. Angela Kennedy, the trustee for the school where the incident took place, said in an interview Wednesday that she expected the board would obey the ministry order, but would follow up with the parent to see whether he wants to fight the trespassing order.
"We'll see what the parent wants to do," she said. "He has two daughters at the school, he needs to be there at the school for his daughters."
Documents obtained by The Globe and Mail show that the father of a student at Annunciation Catholic Elementary School, near Victoria Park Avenue and Lawrence Avenue East, allegedly threatened the principal, Deborah Carlyle, and assaulted the night custodian late last month, and then boasted about it at a parent council meeting that evening to another parent.
No charges were laid and none of the allegations have been proven in court. The incident comes at a time when locally elected school-board trustees are especially sensitive to parents' needs in the lead-up to the municipal elections.
Sheila MacKinnon, an expert in education law, said that it is unusual for trustees to call a meeting to discuss a trespassing order against one parent.
"Based on a regulation under the Education Act, unless there's a board policy otherwise, it's the principal who determines if a person's presence is detrimental to the safety or well-being of people at the school," she said.
The father was angry his daughter did not make the soccer team, and grew aggressive and abusive toward the principal, according to the documents. The principal asked him to leave the school building, but he did not.
The night custodian, who was cleaning a classroom on the second floor, came downstairs when he heard loud voices. He then stood between the father and the principal. According to the documents, the parent "aggressively invaded" the custodian's personal space by putting himself nose to nose and leaving the custodian shaken.
Police were called to the school after the parent left. The custodian declined to press charges. Police visited the parent's house and cautioned him.
The school board's investigation concluded that the parent's presence at the school was detrimental to the safety of people in the school, and issued a no-trespass order until further notice, said Corrado Maltese, the board's co-ordinator for occupational health and safety.
"Our board has a legal duty to protect our workers from workplace violence … We took immediate action to protect them," Mr. Maltese said, noting that such incidents are rare.
A special board meeting was called on Oct. 8, about two weeks after the incident, in which trustees voted in private to rescind the trespassing order. The meeting was called by Ms. Kennedy, a veteran of the board who was ousted from office by judicial order four years ago for conflict of interest charges by voting on budget items that could affect her family members. She was re-elected a couple of months later. Ms. Kennedy appealed and was cleared of those conflict charges by Ontario's Divisional Court in March, 2012.
Ms. Kennedy said the parent approached her to request an appeal of the trespassing order.
"His side of the story wasn't solicited during the [school board's] investigation," she said.
Trustee Maria Rizzo said the father was deeply apologetic for his actions, and that she left the meeting feeling confident that the Annunciation school community was safe.
"In my view, the guy was repentant," she said. "We are Catholic, we are supposed to be forgiving."
Editor's Note: The original newspaper version of this article and an earlier online version said Angela Kennedy a veteran of the Toronto Catholic District School board, was ousted from office by judicial order four years ago for conflict of interest charges by voting on budget items which could affect her family members. In fact, Ms. Kennedy appealed and was cleared of those charges by Ontario's Divisional Court in March, 2012. This online version has been corrected.