School board had no authority to suspend administrators over bullying allegations: B.C. judge

VICTORIA — A B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled the Greater Victoria School Board lacks the power to censure and suspend two elected trustees over allegations of harassment and bullying.

Judge Briana Hardwick said in a written ruling that the administrators argued the board breached procedural fairness by relying on events other than the findings of the complaints investigation reports.

The decision following a judicial review means directors Diane McNally and Rob Paynter have been reinstated.

They were censored and suspended in February after an independent investigation produced two reports a month earlier.

This meant they could no longer attend meetings or access confidential council information for the rest of their term, which was due to expire in November after the municipal elections.

Hardwick says two members of the school district’s administrative staff filed formal complaints in July 2021 against the trustees, who were each twice elected to their positions.

The complaints stem from directors’ social media posts about staff performance, as well as McNally’s comments to complainants and Paynter’s comments at public board meetings.

Hardwick says in a decision dated Friday and posted online Monday that the School Act does not authorize the board to sanction them, adding: « The board does not have the power to suspend a trustee in a manner that amounts to a de facto dismissal of a trustee from their elected office.

The ruling says investigator Marcia McNeil found the directors’ conduct amounted to bullying and harassment, but her correspondence with the board indicates whether the board had the power to sanction or censure them.

McNeil had said that making recommendations to meaningfully remedy their conduct had therefore been a challenge, the judge noted.

McNeil had also expressed concerns that any sanctions would lead to « further division on the board and not improve interactions between directors and senior executives. »

« At present, there are few meaningful remedies available to remedy the conduct of elected officials, » McNeil said.

Hardwick says relations between some trustees, school board administration staff, and some of the electorate within the school district since the October 2018 election could generally be characterized as strained, creating two factions within the board, with McNally and Paynter aligned with the minority.

None of the directors were immediately available for an interview.

Board chairman Ryan Painter said the board is reviewing Hardwick’s decision while considering his options.

“What is most important is that the community has a school board that can function properly in an honest, legal and respectful manner to advance the interests of our students,” he said in a statement.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 26, 2022.


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of conduct. The Star does not share these opinions.

CA Movie

Back to top button