School District 78 office in Hope. Emelie Peacock photo.

B.C. school board trustee takes medical leave, alleges bullying

Fraser-Cascade trustee says toxic environment on the board led to decline in health

A B.C. school board trustee announced Tuesday she is taking medical leave due to a toxic work environment and bullying on the Fraser-Cascade school board.

Trustee Rose Tustian said she was stepping away from the board to care for her physical and mental health. Her announcement is the latest in a series of events including two censures of Tustian by the board, allegations of harrassment against a three-member minority by the majority board members and a request to the Minister of Education for outside intervention.

“My departure for health reasons comes not as a result of the challenges of the job, but of a hostile environment that has been created by the current members of this board,” she announced during a board meeting Tuesday.

“Due to the constant negative attention that has continued over the past three years, the stress has built up to a point where I feel working in this toxic environment has taken a toll on my health.”

Trustee Rose Tustian’s announcement comes after the school board decided Jan. 15 to censure and ban her from private board meetings. The reason for her censure, the board stated in a public notice, was for “disclosing confidential information to the public on multiple occasions during the calendar year 2017.”

Board chair Linda Kerr said Tustian’s announcement Tuesday took her and the board by surprise.

Kerr responded she was unaware of bullying endured by Tustian, but said Tustian had bullied both Kerr and a number of other school district employees.

“There have been several instances, which normally we don’t discuss,” she said. “If you were to gather all the people around the school district who have been at one time bullied — I myself included, the superintendent of schools has been, other people in various committee meetings have been — by her.”

Kerr said Tustian might feel that she is being singled out during meetings, however this is nothing more than regular board proceedings.

“If she’s confusing being on the…defeated end of a motion, yeah it happens to all of us. But we don’t call it bullying, we just call it democratic process. If you bring a motion forward, you have to know that sometimes it’s not going to pass because other people don’t share your views.”

Tustian said she has experienced sleepless nights, spontaneous nosebleeds, anxiety, hypertension and shingles. She said her doctor ordered her unable to participate on the board until March 1.

Tustian said she has also started counselling to deal with the psychological effects of serving on the board.

“The pressure is unbelievable and a lot of it happens in camera,” she said. “The shots and the threats have all happened in camera, which of course we’re not allowed to talk about.”

Kerr said training around harassment and bullying has been provided to members of the school board, however, when the training was run Kerr said Tustian did not attend.

Last year Tustian, along with trustees Cindy Ferguson and Heather Stewin, wrote then Minister of Education Mike Bernier to express concerns about a “dysfunctional board.” They cited actions of four members of the board amounting to “bullying and harassment of some trustees by the majority” and a loss of public trust in the school board.

In a letter to MLA for Chilliwack-Hope Laurie Throness dated Nov. 13, 2017, Tustian requested an intervention to deal with ongoing problems. In the letter, she wrote the board had worked with a facilitator recommended by the British Columbia School Trustees Association (BCSTA).

She wrote the mediator met twice with the board over the course of 2017. This information has not been confirmed by the board.

 

Fraser-Cascade school board trustee Rose Tustian, right, announces her temporary departure from the board as trustee Cindy Ferguson listens. Tustian cited bullying and a toxic work environment on the school board as reasons for her medical leave. Emelie Peacock photo

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