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Former teacher, trustees voice opposition to revised WRDSB bylaws

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Carolyn Burjoski was a delegate at the Waterloo Region District School board meeting on Monday night – the former teacher’s first time addressing trustees since her controversial appearance on Jan. 17, 2022.

At that time, Burjoski expressed concern about some of the books at elementary school libraries. She felt certain topics, specifically gender and sexuality, were addressed in a way that wasn’t appropriate for young children. Burjoski was stopped mid-presentation by now former Board Chair Scott Piatkowski, who worried her comments could violate the Ontario Human Rights Code.

In response, Burjoski asked for a judicial review of the board’s decision to interrupt her presentation. Her request was dismissed in November 2023 and again, by the Ontario Court of Appeal, in March 2024.

Burjoski has also sued Piatkowski for $1.75 million, alleging defamation, libel and slander. A court denied a request to dismiss the lawsuit and previously ordered the school board to pay $30,000 for Burjoski’s legal fees. That case is still ongoing.

Monday’s meeting

Burjoski decided to return as a delegate on Monday to address proposed changes to WRDSB bylaws. The revisions would affect the rules around meetings, trustee vacancies, committees and conflict of interest.

The bylaw that got the most attention at Monday’s meeting was the recommended changes to delegations, specifically the content and length of presentations. Those who wanted to speak in front of trustees would only get five minutes to speak, down from the previous 10-minute limit.

“If passed, these amendments will not only cut delegates speaking time in half but also require pre-approval of their complete presentations. This marks a significant departure from the current practice of providing a brief summary of the issues,” Burjoski told trustees. “I firmly believe that these proposed changes represent an undemocratic attempt to silence diverse perspectives that might not align with the beliefs held by the majority of this board.”

She also criticized the decision-making process, arguing there is no specific criteria for who will – and won’t – be allowed to make a presentation.

“Giving the chair the power to pre-approve delegate’s messages effectively grants the power to remove delegates before they even get to this podium. Delegates will likely feel coerced into revising their messages to suit the chair or risk not being able to speak at all,” Burjoski warned.

“Since January 2022, the chair has sometimes employed the vague accusation of being ‘off topic’ to halt delegations with which it disagrees,” she added, potentially alluding to her own experience. “This arbitrary power to silence dissenting voices is the action of a dictator, not a democratic institution.”

At that, some of the delegates clapped in approval.

According to the proposed bylaw changes, that behaviour wouldn’t be allowed at future board meetings. Anyone expressing “audible or visual demonstrations of support or opposition,” like applause or booing, could be expelled from the meeting, as that “may be intimidating for those with opposing views.”

School board divided

Some trustees also voiced their opposition to the proposed revisions ahead of Monday’s meeting.

Bill Cody said, in a May 12 post on the social media platform X, that “WRDSB procedures say they’re ‘committed to strengthening connections’ but these proposed changes get a failing grade.”

In a separate message, Cindy Watson added: “These proposed changes are no way to treat parents!”

In another May 12 post on X, Mike Ramsay said he was “disturbed that for the first time in WRDSB history, trustees are looking at bylaw changes that (could be argued) are against charter rights.”

The trustee also has a connection to the controversial 2022 presentation by Burjoski.

Ramsay strongly criticised the board and Piatkowski’s decision to end her remarks early. He was later censured and suspended by the board, which prompted Ramsay to request a judicial review of the matter. That request was also dismissed.

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