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York Region trustee issues apology over comments involving residential schools

An investigation by the York Region school board integrity commissioner found that Elizabeth Terrell had breached the trustee code of conduct.
A York Region public school trustee has issued a formal apology after comments she made resulted in an investigation by the board’s integrity commissioner. 

In an email to trustees and senior board staff last fall, Elizabeth Terrell had compared the board’s hybrid learning model to the dangers faced by children in Canada’s residential school system.

“My intention was not to correlate the past to the present in my email or in my social media,” reads the apology from Terrell, released by the York Region District School Board on Tuesday.

“My intention was not to create an analogy from the past to the present in my email or in my social media.

“Nevertheless I now comprehend that I have upset some and I am very sorry for this regardless of my intention,” she wrote.

“I am sorry that my email and my social media has upset some. I am sorry.”

An investigation by the integrity commissioner, Sandhya Kohli, was prompted by complaints from senior staff and a trustee. The investigation found that Terrell had breached the trustee code of conduct and she was censured.

According to the commissioner’s report, Terrell said she made the remarks because she had received “serious complaints” about hybrid learning, which was introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic and involves teachers simultaneously instructing kids in the classroom and those learning online from home.

On Nov. 4, 2021, Terrell sent an email with a draft motion to cancel hybrid learning for elementary and secondary schools, saying: “Children are minors and therefore they are not consenting adults to this hybrid social science experiment.”

“Hybrid cannot be forced upon minors now that winter is soon come,” she wrote in the message. “If a child runs away & escapes from a classroom, like they have been doing, while a teacher is neck-breaking online hybrid, then those children could very easily die by freezing to death outside. Canada has a past where children ran away from residential schools & died by freezing to death.”

On May 17, at a special board meeting to deal with the matter, trustees voted to bar Terrell from attending graduation ceremonies and required her to apologize to the Indigenous community and senior staff.

They stopped short of removing her from committees or barring her from board meetings for the remainder of the term, which ends in November.

Terrell has previously faced controversy. She was elected in 2018 as trustee for East Gwillimbury and Whitchurch-Stouffville after racist comments appeared on her Facebook account. Her swearing-in ceremony was attended by protesters but she refused calls to resign.

The recent comments prompted the fourth investigation by the integrity commissioner into Terrell’s conduct since the start of her four-year term — and in all of them, she has been found to have breached the code of conduct.

She is registered to run in the Oct. 24 election in the new ward of Aurora and Whitchurch-Stouffville.

With files from Isabel Teotonio 

Dorcas Marfo is a reporter for the Star’s radio room based in Toronto. Reach Dorcas via email: dmarfo@thestar.ca

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