When the Director of Education is the Bully-in-Chief

What recourse do parents and educators have when the school board’s director of education is the chief bully? That was the dilemma faced by parents in the York School District located north of Toronto. After a parent was the target of a racial slur by a former trustee a provincial investigation found that the school district was guilty of an astonishing number of violations, including:

·       ignoring the incident of racism,

·       using public funds for international travel that didn’t benefit the schools,

·       more allegations of racism and Islamophobia,

·       covert deal making among board members for their own purposes,

·       a lack of evaluation process for the director, who insisted on a “contract for life,”

·       and spying on team members by sending their laptops for forensic testing.

In yesterday’s post I urged potential whistleblowers to seek an external auditor for serious internal issues and this is wisely what happened in this case. Education Minister Mitzie Hunter appointed two independent investigators to review what was going on in the school district including going through more than 280 emails and interviewing 140 people. Their report was a scathing indictment of the board’s behavior, which generated 22 directives and the failure to do so would mean a formal investigation of the board—one step from being taken over by a provincial supervisor, according to writer Caroline Alphonso at the Globe and Mail.

The chief bully behind all of this was Director of Education J. Philip Parappally. The fearful and threatening environment he created caused staff members to spy on one another and compete for rewards based on favoritism. Parents also pointed out that incidents of racism were ignored after Parappally was hired.  Not atypically, Parappally himself would only concede that the board recognized areas for improvement.

It’s shameful that this became such a toxic culture of fear and intimidation that it requires outside intervention, but this isn’t unusual when the person in leadership is the cause of much of the misery.

Photo credit: Toronto Star