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TDSB chair bringing police to meetings amid concerns about threats from trustees

Chris Bolton, chair of the Toronto District School Board, is shown on Jan. 10, 2013.

MICHELLE SIU/The Globe and Mail

The chair of the Toronto District School Board plans to have an off-duty police officer present at board meetings after a letter on Friday by the director said staff are concerned about the threatening behaviour of trustees.

Chris Bolton sent an e-mail to trustees late Friday, obtained by The Globe and Mail, that said a police officer will be present at all board meetings until further notice.

He also wrote that the door between the trustees' office and senior staff offices will be locked and that meetings will require appointments.

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"I'm sure we can all appreciate the gravity of the situation and the response needed," he wrote.

Mr. Bolton's e-mail follows a letter sent to him by the director of education, Donna Quan, and associate directors about an incident at a committee meeting earlier this week where staff were intimidated and threatened by a trustee.

"This incident is not unique, and has prompted us to write to you in order to express our grave concerns about the conduct that some trustees have displayed towards staff," the letter stated.

"It appears that our organization has come to condone a culture where it is acceptable for staff members to be subjected to abusive, threatening and insulting comments by elected officials," the senior staff members wrote.

"This is not acceptable under any circumstances."

Ms. Quan and her senior staff stated that the behaviour of some trustees has created a "culture of fear and anxiety" and impedes the ability of staff to provide honest advice and lead with confidence.

The letter condemned the behaviour that some trustees show each other.

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Criticism about trustees uses a heavy-handed approach in staff affairs has been raised previously. A provincial audit report late last year also described a "culture of fear" at the school board, and recommended that trustees cease to be involved in staffing changes with the exception of the director of education.

"Pressure is sometimes put on staff to not comply with set policies and some employees fear their employment may be terminated if they refuse to do as requested," the report said.

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