Vancouver School Board trustees slammed with serious bullying and harassment allegations

The VSB has voted to suspend the public process of closing up to 11 schools. Wyn Lok via Flickr

WorkSafeBC is investigating allegations that Vancouver School Board (VSB) trustees are bullying senior management staff, to the point where some are taking medical leave.

Global News learned of the allegations through a memo sent to Education Minister Mike Bernier from the BC School Superintendents Association (BCSSA). The letter outlines a series of complaints of bullying, harassment, and intimidation in the workplace.

“[The VSB’s] work environment continually and cumulatively creates a toxicity which fosters fear and lack of sense of safety for these lead educators as the expectations requested of them are unmanageable,” part of the letter, signed by association president Sherry Elwood, reads.
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The allegations come several days after two administrators with the Vancouver School Board, the acting superintendent and the acting treasurer, mysteriously took medical leave at the same time.

Minister Bernier offered the ministry’s response, saying, “We have passed the BCSSA’s concerns about the welfare and the lack of a sense of safety of their members working at the VSB on to WorkSafeBC because of their jurisdiction regarding bullying and harassment in the workplace.”

VSB Chair Mike Lombardi told Global News he would not be stepping down amidst these claims.

“Absolutely not. I was elected by the citizens of Vancouver to provide leadership and I am doing that with my trustees. Investigations can take place and they will take place as they’re brought to our attention. Nobody has talked to me about these issues. The Minister has not talked to me. The Deputy Minister has not talked to me. This is the first I’ve heard of it.”

VSB issued a press release Friday evening announcing Steve Cardwell as the new acting superintendent, after the “sudden and unanticipated” departures of Superintendent Scott Robinson and Secretary-Treasurer Russell Horswill.

The statement said the placement will “help ensure stability in our workplaces at a difficult time, with school closures and an audit underway.”

WorkSafeBC told Global News they would be investigating the allegations under the authority of the Workers’ Compensation Act. According to the act, bullying and harassment is defined as:

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  • Someone takes action that he or she knew or reasonably ought to have known would cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated;
  • May occur between co-workers or between an employer and a worker or workers, or from external sources.  It can also occur through email, text messages, social networks and other websites;
  • When an employer or supervisor takes reasonable action to manage and direct workers, it is not bullying and harassment.

Depending on the results of the WorkSafeBC investigation, some or all of the VSB trustees could face dismissal.

With files from Keith Baldrey.

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