Rather than give in to demands that she resign — which a majority of trustees called for Monday night — Nancy Elgie is instead proposing she be allowed to decide her punishment.
In an unusual move, Elgie made a plea — via her children — to fellow York Region school board trustees Monday night, saying she’d prefer to offer to sanction herself.
“When the students break the rules, there’s a consequence . . . the same should apply to trustees. They must lead by example,” said her son, Stewart Elgie, who was joined by his siblings and children as he spoke on behalf of his mom.
“At the time of the investigator’s findings, I said I want to do what is right to promote healing and recovery in the board and community. Over the past three weeks, I have had a lot of time to think about what that requires . . . .”
“When a trustee breaches the code of conduct, the sanction is to be barred from a number of board meetings. Some have called publicly for such a suspension in this case and I agree that is an appropriate sanction here. Therefore, I propose a voluntary sanction that I be prohibited from participating in all board meeting for a period three to six months, if my fellow trustees accept it,” she said, in her statement.
“This sends a clear signal that even when such words are used with no intent to harm, there is harm nonetheless,” read Stewart, who stayed for the heated meeting, which could not begin as parents demanded that Elgie resign.
Trustees had discussed the issue in private before the meeting began, but the discussion did not take place as meeting was adjourned.
Typically when a school board trustee is in hot water — and unless they are announcing their resignation — it is fellow trustees who determine what form the discipline take, either a public statement of censure or suspension from a number of meetings following a code of conduct investigation. In this case, Elgie was investigated through an employee investigation, taking away any measures for her colleagues to censure her.
The meeting comes days as after new trustee chair Loralea Carruthers broke her silence calling for Elgie’s resignation, weeks after the Georgina-area trustee apologized for using a racial slur in reference to a black parent.
“If Elgie cares about this board, which I know she does, I call on her to do the right thing and we have heard from trustees at the table, the right thing is for her to resign, said Carruthers during a heated board meeting that had to be adjourned as parents demanded Elgie resign.
And one be one, the trustees asked her to step down. Among them were Trustee Carol Chan, for Richmond Hill who said:
“I agree with my chair that she should step down. Racism is never acceptable,” she said, adding that you can forgive, but there should be consequences.
“You are powerful, you have money, you can find people to excuse you. But what about a student, they don’t get any excuses,” she said, adding that students are often suspended for days for using bad language.
Juanita Nathan, trustee for Markham, also encouraged Elgie to step down, “I truly believe Nancy should step down for what she said, because that is the right thing to do.”
Vice-chair Corrie McBain said she had two conversations with Elgie and told her she should step down so they can put students first.
Trustees Susan Geller and Allan Tam also called for her resignation.
Elgie cannot be forced out because she is an elected official, but fellow trustees do have the option of suspending her from meetings.
Last week, her family announced she is taking an indefinite medical leave, saying she misspoke because of a head injury she suffered last October.
Stewart Elgie, a professor at the University of Ottawa, said: “My mother knows that what she said — even inadvertently — was hurtful and has caused real pain. She has apologized fully and taken responsibility. She is listening to all the feedback she gets, and is considering all the options.”
The board can consider filing a code of conduct complaint against her, but has said it would be a costly and long process, where many of the findings would be discussed in-camera.
During the emotional meeting, parents shared their experience with racism and what they have perceived as the brush off from the trustees and the director.
“I thought my story was bad, until I heard other people’s stories and that silenced me,” said parent Charline Grant, one of dozens in attendance.
Meanwhile, at Queen’s Park, Children and Youth Services Minister Michael Coteau and Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown have also said Elgie is no longer fit for public office.
A social media campaign is also gathering steam with ads targeting trustees and asking them to take action and vote to suspend Elgie.
Ongoing issues at the York board and accusations that it ignored incidents of racism and Islamophobia, as well as questions about trustee spending and conduct, prompted the provincial government to send in two investigators.
They are expected to issue a report in April.
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