The Greater Victoria School Board has censured and suspended two trustees after allegations of misconduct, including bullying and harassment of staff.
Diane McNally and Rob Paynter have both been relieved of their duties until October, when the next municipal and school board elections will be held.
Since the suspension will last for the rest of their elected terms, that leaves the board with seven instead of nine trustees, said board chairman Ryan Painter.
The district said in a statement that the decision came after the board was made aware last summer of two formal complaints related to disparaging comments that were made publicly.
Due to the serious nature of workplace bullying and harassment, it said, the district initiated a third-party probe by a lawyer/investigator, which substantiated the misconduct claims. The board is now reviewing its bylaws and trustee code of conduct to ensure measures are in place to address the situation, it said.
“The board did act immediately when we received the complaints because they are so troubling,” Painter said. “And there is absolutely a zero tolerance for bullying or harassment in the Greater Victoria School District.”
Investigations like this one are complex and take time, he said. “We need to be thorough, so the board wanted to make sure we got it right, and it was done right.”
When the board got the report from the investigation, it acted immediately “to take the corrective action it felt was necessary,” Painter said.
The suspended trustees continue to receive their remuneration, he said. Both have the right to seek a judicial review.
Despite the loss of two trustees, the board will continue to do its work, Painter said.
McNally, who said she is consulting a lawyer, said she and Paynter have an “apparently different view of governance than the majority of the board.”
“I really do see this as an attempt to silence two trustees, myself and Rob Paynter.”
She said the vote against them wasn’t unanimous, adding that she’s felt for a long time that the workplace was “toxic.” “There has been a lot of bullying and harassment directed toward me.”
McNally was previously censured by the board in March 2020 for “unauthorized disclosure” of a confidential report, and for acting contrary to policy on bullying and harassment. She was suspended from taking part in in-camera meetings of the board for a year. She has said that an independent legal analysis she paid for found the process “deeply flawed,” and that she disagreed with the assertion about bullying and harassment.
Paynter said he is considering how to proceed and will also be talking to his lawyer.
“While I am disappointed that the board has taken this action at this point in time, I need to discuss my response and next steps with my attorney.”
The suspension of the trustees follows board upheaval in August 2021, when then-chairwoman Jordan Watters resigned at the request of the Songhees Nation, the Esquimalt Nation, the Métis and the urban Indigenous community.
Watters said at the time that she was ultimately accountable as chairwoman of the board for a public survey and presentation that drew accusations of systemic racism.