A Kingston-area parent who felt he could not get answers from the Limestone District School Board about the treatment of his son believes his trustee was reprimanded for taking his case to the director of education.
“(The trustee) is there to speak for us and she’s getting in trouble for speaking for us, because they probably don’t want to hear what we’re saying,” said the parent, whose identity is being withheld by Global News in order to protect the identity of the student.
Robin Hutcheon, a first-term trustee for Stone Mills and Loyalist Townships, was censured by her peers in private session on Oct. 30, without much being said as to why, other than she overstepped her governance role.
After Global News reported the trustee’s censure, the parent came forward, saying he believed her reprimand began with a complaint involving his son, which he felt was not adequately dealt with by the board.
“It felt like a big brush-off at the beginning that you’re like, ‘Why are you here? You won’t talk to anybody anyway.’ It wasn’t inviting… and then it got a little more hostile.”
The parent claims that after a year of being bullied at school, his son was pulled into the office of Martha Duncan – the school’s vice principal at the time– and asked personal questions about his sexual orientation.
“He was first asked if he actually was gay, which was I believe was totally inappropriate. It should’ve been full stop, called parents,” the parent told Global News.
The father then claims the vice principal told the 13-year-old boy he was at the age where he should be making decisions about his sexual orientation.
“When I found out that, it blew my mind,” the parent said.
Global News has repeatedly tried to contact Duncan for comment, but she has never responded. The board has also refused to comment on the complaint, saying they are legally disallowed from speaking about personnel issues or matters involving students.
The parent said he learned of the alleged incident in its entirety by September 2019 when his son had already decided to move to a school in a different board.
He then went to the board office to complain, where he claims he was first told by a staff member he would not be able to speak to associate superintendent Alison McDonnell because she was too busy.
“But then, after I told the story of what happened, she sort of gasped a little bit and the next day I had a date for an appointment,” the parent said in an interview.
It was during this meeting with McDonnell the parent claims he was told an investigation into the alleged incident would take place, but since it was a personnel issue he would never be notified about the results.
“She said, well, this is probably it. This is going to go to H.R. and she goes, ‘you won’t hear the outcome of what’s going on,” the parent said.
McDonnell has not responded to multiple requests for comment, and the board made it clear that none of its staff would be commenting on the subject. Instead, they provided the following statement.
“The board does take concerns and allegations of misconduct very seriously and investigates each time a concern is brought to our attention. Parents will be advised that the concern is being followed up and may be advised that the board has taken administrative action to address the matter.”
In an email from Limestone director of education Debrah Rantz back to the parent, which he forwarded to Global News, Rantz confirmed an investigation into the matter was taking place.
“However, we must maintain confidentiality of the results or consequences involving employees given that they potentially raise employment-related matters,” Rantz wrote in the email.
Nevertheless, to this day, the parent says he has not heard anything about the investigation outcome, He noted, however, that Duncan was promoted to principal this year.
Frustrated after being told he would not hear the outcome of an investigation, the parent then went to the office of local MPP Darryl Kramp and says staff was helpful but ultimately urged him to take up the matter with his local trustee, Robin Hutcheon.
The two met on Oct. 3, and then on Oct. 9, Hutcheon sent an email to the director of education on his behalf, outlining those concerns.
In the email, of which the parent received a copy and shared with Global News, Hutcheon said “this parent is quite concerned that there will be no follow-up provided.”
“If you could provide some reassurance that this has been handled properly,” Hutcheon’s email continued, “including actions that have been taken to ensure and that no student will have to endure this type of questioning again, that would be great.”
The parent believes Hutcheon was censured for sending that email since her censure happened just weeks after the email was sent.
About three weeks later, on Oct. 30, a motion was brought forward to censure Hutcheon in private session for allegedly breaching four sections of the board’s code of conduct.
The board would not divulge what Hutcheon did, but school board chair Suzanne Ruttan said that Hutcheon got directly involved in the operation of a school in her district.
“Trustee Hutcheon got involved in a matter beyond the governance role,” Ruttan told Global News in a Nov. 15 interview. “We are governors, we are not education experts.”
Trustee Hutcheon was reprimanded publicly on social media and told that she must write a letter of apology to the principal of the school, as well as ensure that she has read the Ontario Public School Board Association’s Good Governance Guide.
She was given a deadline of Nov. 29 to send in the apology letter, but according to Jane Douglas, communications for the board, Hutcheon has yet to do so.
As for code of conduct violations, Hutcheon was accused of criticizing members of the board and being uncivil, not respecting the roles of trustees and the director, not recognizing the authority of the board and overstepping her governance role.
Hutcheon was also found to have breached Policy 3, a policy that outlines the job description of the director of education and makes no mention of trustee conduct.
The board pointed to section 6.1 of the director of education’s job description where Hutcheon took a misstep. It states the director “has overall authority and responsibility for all personnel-related issues, save and except those personnel matters precluded by board policy, legislation or collective agreements.”
When asked if it’s customary or even allowed to censure a trustee for a policy that is meant to outline the duties of a non-elected staff member, Douglas said the board is allowed to censure trustees and staff for any breach of board policy, whether it is directed at them or not.
The Ontario Public School Board Association did not comment when asked the same question. The Ministry of Education did not respond either.
The board would not confirm that Hutcheon was censured for sending the email on behalf of the concerned parent.
“Matters relating to individual trustees are not discussed or shared with the public by staff,” a board statement says.
Hutcheon could not comment on what was discussed in private session, and simply said she accepted her censure.
“I’m willing to accept that that’s how the board feels about my actions, and that’s okay,” Hutcheon said.
The whole experience has left the parent feeling at a loss, especially in his suspicion that his elected representative was punished for trying to advocate on his behalf.
Director of Education, Debrah Rantz, refused to comment for this story, despite several requests.