Rainbow Board’s dismissal of Trustee Killens outrages ratepayer group at town hall meeting

Manitoulin trustee Larry Killens stands in front of empty chairs bearing the photos of his colleagues on the Rainbow District School Board.

MINDEMOYA—A substantial crowd arrived for a “town hall meeting” at the Mindemoya Community Centre last Wednesday night, July 25. At the front of the hall vacant chairs were placed facing the audience, each bearing a photograph of one of the trustees of the Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) that had been invited to the event—except the chair occupied by Manitoulin Trustee Larry Killens.

It was clear from the outset that the majority of the audience in attendance had come to the meeting in a show of support for Trustee Killens. Trustee Killens was recently sanctioned by the RDSB and banned from attending any board or committee meetings.

Small white laminated signs festooned the walls of the hall bearing slogans such as “Bring Larry Killens back,” “Down with Dewar,” “Larry Killens is Manitoulin’s Voice” and “Manitoulin is not the RDSB’s poor cousin.”

Town hall meeting organizer Jason Chandler opened the meeting with a statement that “nobody put me up to this,” followed a by detailed description of the challenges that he faced in trying to deal with a family member’s expulsion from school. That story was covered in detail in a previous edition of The Expositor. Mr. Chandler made it clear that he did not condone the actions of his family member, which he said involved posting something on the social network Snapchat. Mr. Chandler emphasized the post was clearly inappropriate, but called the expulsion and subsequent arrest of his family member during school hours in front of their classmates totally inappropriate.

Mr. Chandler then focussed on what he characterized as the Byzantine labyrinth of communications that took place between himself and the RDSB administration.

“I discovered that the first tool in the toolbox for the RDSB is a closed meeting,” he said.

Dylan Gibson, who along with his wife have been banned from Rainbow Board properties, spoke to the audience of what he describes as six years of “incredibly disrespectful” interactions by the board.
photo by Michael Erskine

Mr. Chandler produced numerous slides illustrating documentation of those interactions, including policies, procedural documents, sections of the education act and copies of communications between himself and the RDSB. His presentation lasted around 45 minutes, but only displayed a fraction of the 230 pages of documentation he has amassed.

Trustee Killens was first mentioned by Mr. Chandler at the 32-minute mark of the presentation, when he noted that the trustee had assisted him with making connections—but never stepped outside of his role as trustee.

Among the documents that Mr. Chandler displayed was a “confidential draft.” “I am not supposed to have this,” he said. “But at this point I don’t care.”

Mr. Chandler alleged that the education director had held up a copy of a petition from the students at his family member’s school that showed a low level of support for the expelled student. “That page only had nine signatures on it,” said Mr. Chandler. “What he didn’t hold up were the other six pages.” Mr. Chandler then displayed the single page, followed by what he alleged were six pages filled with signatures (each of which had the names blurred).

Mr. Chandler described the interactions of the RDSB administration as “bullying” toward his family member and while the eventual resolution was reasonable, the process taking his family member out of school for over 150 days was, in his mind, totally unconscionable. Judging by the audience reaction, Mr. Chandler had made his case.

“If you have a kid in school, ask for their Ontario Student Record (OSR),” he advised. After one year a parent can ask to have any disciplinary note removed. “So it can’t be used against them for years after.” That is what Mr. Chandler alleged happened to his family member.

Mr. Chandler noted that after spending countless hours familiarizing himself with the Education Act and other relevant regulations, essentially becoming something of an expert in board governance, he decided to run for the RDSB trustee position in Alban, where he now resides.

As for ongoing litigation and the cost of lawyers for those administrators involved in that litigation, Mr. Chandler noted that the board had delegated permission to the RDSB director of education to pay the school board employees’ legal bills.

The raise being provided to the director of education was questioned, along with a reserve fund earmarked by the board for the cost of building a “bubble dome” sports facility in Sudbury—juxtaposed with the lack of late buses and adequate textbooks for Manitoulin students.

The next speaker was Dylan Gibson, who along with his wife had been banned from RDSB property. “My wife and I were tried and sentenced to a lifelong ban,” he alleged. Mr. Gibson went on to describe six years of what he characterized as “incredibly disrespectful” interactions by the RDSB, which he attributed to his activities as an education advocate.

Mr. Gibson cited an interview with the RDSB in which he paraphrased the chair as saying “I know it says that in the policy, but that is not what we meant.”

“Larry stood up to them,” said Mr. Gibson.

“I never thought I would ever say this,” quipped Mr. Gibson, “but if you want to know my story, Google my name.”

Mr. Gibson is also running for the RDSB trustee position, in the same district as the board chair.

Former Manitoulin Secondary School principal Gary Chandler (Jason’s father) then spoke. “I am probably responsible for getting Larry off the board,” he said, by way of explanation relating how, when he heard about the issues his relatives were having with the RDSB he said “call Larry Killens’.”

Gary Chandler went on to say that he was “so proud of the way Jason defended my grandson and nephew.”

Gary Chandler alleged that the timing of the police action smacked of collusion between the police and the board. He pointed out that there had been plenty of time between when the initial complaint about the Snapchat post had been made to the police and when his family member went to school on the following day to have made the arrest either before he left for school or as he got off the bus. Instead the arrest took place during class hours.

“They arrested a 14-year-old, took him out of school without his shoes, without his boots,” he said. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

“I think they did it to make an example, I think the school and the police colluded in this,” he said. Gary Chandler’s remarks drew strong applause from the audience.

“They don’t care about kids,” Gary Chandler said referring to the other board trustees. “Larry Killens cares about kids.”

At this point an audience member asked Mr. Killens “how does anybody manage to piss off every other trustee on the board?”

“Good question,” responded Mr. Killens. “The elephant in the room is the unanimous vote to remove me from meetings. In my opinion it was that I insisted on asking questions on your behalf. I ask difficult questions.”

Little Current resident Mike Maciuk suggested that the RDSB trustees have become complacent and that they view the school board as “their business.”

Ed Ferguson characterized the proceedings of the RDSD as a “Star Chamber” and acting with a complete lack of transparency. Mr. Ferguson’s wife handed two $50 bills to Mr. Killens, asking him to run for office again. (The money was intended as a donation to cover the $100 application fee to run for office. Mr. Killens returned the bills to Mr. Ferguson at the end of the meeting.)

“Doug Ford should do the same as with these guys as he did with Ontario Hydro,” suggested Mr. Maciuk. “Get rid of the guys at the top.”

Mr. Killens was asked about the six “sanctions” mentioned in the motion that removed him from board meetings for the remainder of his term. He maintained that he has never received documentation on when those six incidents occurred, but offered explanations for two of the alleged infractions. He noted that one referred to comments he made outside a closed meeting that did not relate to what was discussed in that closed meeting.

In response to a request by the Expositor for clarification from the board, RDSB Chair Doreen Dewar responded with an email stating:

“Rainbow District School Board conducts its business in accordance with the Education Act that includes a Code of Conduct.

“The Code of Conduct for Trustees is available online for all members of the public to read.

“The Board members imposed a sanction based on the Code of Conduct for the reasons outlined in the motions that were approved unanimously by the Board members on July 3, 2018 and subsequently confirmed by the Board members on July 19, 2018. These motions have been shared.

“Trustee Killens is accountable for his actions.

“Trustee Killens received a letter at the time of each of the previous five breaches. The current breach is the sixth.

“On or about June 11, 2018, Trustee Killens received copies of the original five letters along with a number of documented items. These are currently in his possession.

“Upon written request from Trustee Killens, these letters will be re-sent to him and/or to you.

“Trustee Killens continues to represent Manitoulin Island and collect his full honorarium of $8,375 plus mileage, fax and Internet costs (total of $15,641 last year).

“The decision to impose a sanction was not taken lightly.

“Rainbow District School Board will continue to focus on student achievement and well-being.”

Informed of the chair’s response, Trustee Killens stuck to his guns, categorically denying that he had received the documentation referenced by Chair Dewar and supplying copies of email communications requesting copies of the letters and supporting documents and Ms. Dewar’s response indicating he had already received those documents. He also copied The Expositor on an email requesting the documents also be sent to The Expositor.

At the end of the meeting there were numerous calls for Mr. Killens to run for trustee again.

It was noted by Toronto criminal defence lawyer Susan Von Achten, who gave an impassioned speech on the importance of political action in democracy, that a loud enough outcry would force the provincial government to take notice of the issue.

It was represented by a number of the participants that Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha would secure an interview with the minister of education should there be a large enough public outcry. A petition was circulated at the meeting and audience members were encouraged to write letters to Mr. Mantha urging him to get the government to intervene.

Asked why the trustees of the RDSB were on the board, Mr. Killens responded “I hope it is for the same reason I am, for the kids.” Although he encouraged people to run for the RDSB, Mr. Killens maintained that the only reason someone should run is to do the best they can for the students of the RDSB.

Almost all those who spoke at the town hall meeting voiced their support for the teachers of the RDSB and asserted that their criticisms of the board should in no way reflect upon the teachers.

Mr. Killens said that he was deeply touched by the outpouring of support that he received from the people attending the town hall meeting.