Trustee opposes proposed Rainbow Board incamera note-taking ban

RAINBOW DISTRICT—A Manitoulin trustee on the Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) is opposed to the board considering a motion banning trustees from taking notes at in camera meetings and says that it must be defeated to protect the education stakeholders he represents.

“Being able to take notes at all meetings is very important,” Mr. Killens told the Recorder late last week. “I don’t want someone to judge me on a decision that has been made by the board if I have not been able to take notes from a meeting. At the board meeting May 25 this motion was brought forward.”

Mr. Killens explained at a previous meeting, “I was advised I should leave the room of an incamera meeting if I didn’t stop taking notes. I asked what authority this instruction was being given, I did not get a reply and left the room. The very next meeting this notice of motion was entered on the record, which will now make my note taking illegal if passed.”

The motion proposed by RDSB board chair Doreen Dewar and Trustee Clement reads as follows: “bylaw 10: Incamera (closed) meetings as amended by recommended to the board as a notice of motion. With the exception of the executive secretary or designate, any and all recording and/or note-taking of incamera meetings is expressly prohibited.”

Mr. Killens explained, “again, this past open board meeting May 25, that specific notice of motion was placed on the May 25 agenda, along with over $1 million dollars in approved tenders, a presentation and passing of a special education plan.” He pointed out on the boards’ website it promises people disclosure of agendas well in advance (several days before), as well to be transparent letting people know what is unfolding in our board. In this case it did not happen until three hours before the meeting.”

“I argued that we should table the entire agenda until the next meeting as there was only one person in the gallery and the public is not aware of any of the topics to be dealt with, including approval of over $1 million in tenders,” said Mr. Killens. “I pointed out our disclosure/claim to the public and the public and that the agenda was not on the web site until three hours prior to the meeting. The chair refused to table the agenda. The other topics were voted on and passed once the meeting progressed. As well, a very important special education plan for the next year was presented and no one from the public was present to hear it.”

Doreen Dewar, chair of the RDSB, told the Recorder in a recent interview, “no, the motion (banning note taking at in camera meetings) hasn’t been passed yet. It’s a recommendation that will be made, discussed and passed or defeated on by trustees at the July 5 board meeting.”

“I think it is something I did suggest at a meeting for incamera meetings because any topics discussed under the Education Act, such as personnel, litigation, ombudsman investigations, needs to be confidential information kept in private.”

“With taking of notes, or recording meetings, the only reason someone would be taking notes is if they are going to be using them later,” said Ms. Dewar. “But, under the Education Act, we have no leeway and, because of the nature of the topics, this information needs to remain confidential.”

Ms. Dewar explained, “under the Education Act, boards may have closed a committee of the board including a committee of the whole board meeting may be closed to the public (held in camera). When subject matter under consideration involves the security of the board’s property; the discharge of intimate, personal or financial information in respect of a member of the board or committee, or employee, or prospective employee of the board or a pupil or his or her parent or guardian; the acquisition or disposal of a school site; decisions in respect of negotiations with employees of the board; litigation affecting the board; and discussions pertaining to the Ombudsman office complaints.

“The notice of motion will be under discussion, an item that will be discussed and either passed or rejected at our July 5 meeting,” said Ms. Dewar.

“In my 12 years as a school trustee I feel this is the most important motion that must be defeated to protect educational stakeholders I represent. In Ontario, to my personal knowledge, there isn’t one school board that has this rule in force,” said Mr. Killens. “Remember, the notes taken by a trustee would still be confidential until those wanting them follow due process ( a freedom of information request) to see them; otherwise the trustee or person in legal possession of the notes, is liable to punishment should they release them. I will be voting in opposition to the motion on July 5.”