York Region School Trustee Nancy Elgie steps down, calls for healing, learning & restorative process to begin

TORONTO, Feb. 17, 2017 /CNW/ - York Region School Trustee Nancy Elgie today released a video statement announcing her intention to step down to allow a process of healing, learning and restoration to begin on the board and in the community. Here is an abridged version of her statement:

"17 years ago, I was honoured to be elected as the school trustee for Georgina, and to apply my 40 years of experience as an educational psychologist to try to help strengthen our school system. It was also a chance to build on the public work of my late husband, Bob Elgie, a pioneer of Ontario's Human Rights Code. As a trustee, I have always tried to make a difference, particularly for our most vulnerable children.

Last November, I made a terrible mistake. In a private conversation with Trustee Loralea Carruthers, I was trying to refer to a parent who had been at the board meeting; but I did not know her name, only that she had been featured in media stories about children being called a hurtful racist word. In trying to explain that, the words came horribly wrong. I was mortified. I apologized immediately to Trustee Carruthers and explained what I meant. She accepted my apology and said she understood I had misspoken in using that offensive word.

I later learned that someone had heard my remark, but not the apology, and filed a complaint.  That led to an investigation, about which I could not speak with anyone until it was done – not the parent involved, my colleagues, or the media.

After the investigation, I immediately apologized to the parent involved, and to my colleagues. Today, I reiterate that heartfelt apology.  I know how hurtful that word is – even if used inadvertently – and I am truly sorry for the pain my words have caused.

People have asked how I could have said that terrible word.  I have agonized over this.  As you may have read, I had a bad fall and suffered a head injury before this incident. A specialist later confirmed that I'd had a concussion, and that I was experiencing some of the common symptoms, including mixing up my words. 

But I have come to realize that while my head injury may help explain what I said – why I mixed up my words – it doesn't excuse it.  I used a hurtful word – one that is directly at odds with my values, with the things my husband and I fought for, and with how I've lived my life and brought up my children. 

How can I help to heal the harm?

As I said after the investigator's report, I want to do what is right, to promote healing and recovery for the board and in the community.

I have followed the public debate, and listened to all who have contacted me, with a range of different views.  Some have questioned why I did not resign immediately.  It was never about protecting my position; I am 82 years old, and had no intention to run again.  

My main concern was the lesson that would be passed on to our students if the consequences for my infraction were totally punitive, with no attempt to also be restorative. A restorative approach, which evolved from the practices of First Nations peoples, has been an integral part of how our board handles student discipline.

The Board policy I breached had no remedy. That isn't right. So I wanted to try to model the approach our Board takes to student discipline: to lead by example. We teach students that if you break a rule and cause harm, there are consequences. But we also teach that if it was unintended, and you apologize and take responsibility, those are mitigating factors.  Typically there is a sanction, but also a process for learning and restoration that includes the person responsible for the harm.

So I proposed this same approach for me: a suspension, followed by a process for dialogue and restoration. I wanted this to be a teachable moment for all of us.

It has become obvious, however, that the repercussions of my behaviour that evening have brought undeserved distress to many people, including the parent involved.

So I have decided that the best thing I can do to serve the people of Georgina, and the board, is to step down.  I hope that this will allow Trustees to move forward and focus on the many important issues they face.  And that it will enable a process of healing and restoration to begin.  I am quite willing to be involved in that process, if it would be helpful, though it will not be as a trustee.

People come and go, but institutions prevail, and continue to enrich our communities. The YRDSB is one such institution, made up of dedicated, loving, competent staff at all levels, who I know will continue to enrich and inspire the children for whose education they share a responsibility.

To the people of Georgina, its families and their children, it has been an honour to have served as your trustee for the past 17 years.

SOURCE Nancy Elgie

For further information: Stewart Elgie: selgie@uottawa.ca; Allyson Harrison: harrisna@queensu.ca

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