Greater Victoria school board votes to issue rare censure

In a rare move, the Greater Victoria school board has censured a trustee after an investigation into allegations that she harassed a senior administrator.

Board chairwoman Peg Orcherton said trustees voted at a private meeting last Thursday to censure Deborah Nohr, a first-term trustee and former teacher.

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Orcherton said the vote followed an independent probe by Judith Anderson, a Vancouver lawyer who represents school boards on labour and education matters.

Her report was not released.

Orcherton, who disclosed the censure at a board meeting on Monday, said trustees reviewed Anderson’s findings and decided to rebuke Nohr for:

• sending an email that was offensive and derogatory to a senior staff member;

• making false and derogatory comments about a senior employee’s handling of a board motion;

• communicating with district staff in a way that undermined a senior staff member and the board;

• communicating directly with an agency in a manner that could have led to penalties against the school district; and

• failing to respect the will of the board majority.

The statement did not identify the senior employee involved and did not say when the incidents occurred or who initiated the investigation. It was also unclear whether the vote to censure was unanimous.

“It is truly with regret that we have a matter that is so serious that we have no choice but to vote for censure,” Orcherton said, reading from a prepared statement.

“It is my sincere desire that our school district can learn from this and move forward free from a toxic and hostile work environment.”

Orcherton said Nohr has been told what the board expects from her, and “some limitations have been put in place to ensure a respectful working environment.”

The limitations on Nohr were not explained and neither Nohr nor Orcherton would comment after the meeting.

District superintendent John Gaiptman, who is the most senior official in the district, also declined comment.

Although rare, censure is sometimes used by boards to express strong disapproval for the actions or comments of individual trustees.

The Vancouver Sun reported in 2012 that the Vancouver school board voted to censure two trustees for making misleading statements about the district’s anti-homophobia policy. The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadow Times reported in 2006 that the district board had censured a trustee there for disclosing confidential information.

Orcherton said this is the first censure of a trustee in her 11 years on the Greater Victoria board.

It’s not the first time Nohr has run afoul of her board colleagues.

Earlier this year, vice-chairwoman Bev Horsman called on the board to express regret for comments that Nohr made on her blog about the Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils.

Horsman’s motion, which had the backing of Orcherton, said Nohr had attempted to undermine the confederation’s work. The motion was withdrawn at the last minute when the board voted 4-3 to affirm its support for the organization.

Nohr argued at the time that she was within her rights as an elected to official to raise issues for debate.

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