Questions have arisen regarding the Greater Victoria Board of Education’s decision to sanction two trustees by suspending them from their duties.
BCSTA cannot comment on specifics as it is a local matter initiated by a duly elected board of education. BCSTA can, however, provide background on a board’s authority to discipline trustees, as well as the responsibility of boards of education to address allegations of bullying and harassment by individual trustees.
Duly elected trustees are not subject to the regular performance reviews or the disciplinary processes of traditional employment. The electorate has the opportunity to evaluate a trustee’s job performance every four years, but problematic behaviour may occur during the four-year election cycle. Boards of education must have the ability to act when necessary.
Case law recognizes the rights of boards of education to develop procedures intended to address trustee misconduct. Boards may protect their integrity and proper functioning by implementing such procedures. When boards of education initiate a disciplinary procedure, it is the responsibility of all trustees on the board, including those facing discipline to participate fully and appropriately in the process. A proper process outlines clear steps the board will take along with clear opportunities for trustees facing disciplinary action to provide timely and relevant responses at each step. If a disciplined trustee feels that due process has not been followed, they do have the ability to seek clarity on procedural fairness through a judicial review. Use of discipline should be proportional to the breach of conduct and must respect procedural fairness.
Such actions may include (but are not limited to):
- the censure of a trustee,
- the suspension of a trustee from all or part of board meetings for a period of time,
- removing the trustee from sitting on one or more committees of the Board for a period of time, and,
- in the most serious case, the initiation of judicial proceedings for the removal of a trustee from the board of education.
Boards of education are employers and therefore both the board and individual trustees have a responsibility to create a workplace that is free from bullying and harassment. When a board receives information indicating that such standards have not been met, it has a legal requirement to respond and a responsibility to protect its employees.
Trustees may ask difficult questions and demand high calibre work from staff, but this must be done professionally and appropriately. They should also question staff competence when warranted. As with all other workplaces, this must be done in an official, confidential setting, and in a manner designed to protect the personal and professional dignity of the employee. It is also critical that staff be given the opportunity to respond. Elected trustees have no right to act poorly to their employees, nor are they excused from the highest standards of professional conduct.
Trustees are elected to bring a diversity of opinions to boards of education. Critical to a well-functioning democracy is the ability to share these varying perspectives with respect and decorum while navigating difficult and complex issues. Boards finding themselves having to navigate a challenging situation are reminded that the BCSTA has resources that can assist in identifying ethical and effective solutions.