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HDSB should expect 'highest standards of professionalism' from teachers: Lecce

Ontario education minister said he believes HDSB has the authority to enforce standards
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The Halton District School Board (HDSB) has failed to prioritize the safety of its students and uphold professionalism within the classroom, according to Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Lecce was commenting on the HDSB's handling of a controversy surrounding a transgender teacher's attire and appearance in the classroom of an Oakville high school, which came to light in September after social media videos circulated showing the teacher wearing tight-fitting clothing and sporting gigantic prosthetic breasts.

The matter drew international news coverage and since then there have been protests outside the school and a number of bomb threats have disrupted operations and worried affected families.

“Many families in the community have expressed deep concern about the management of this issue,” Lecce said yesterday (Dec 19) when asked about the matter at an unrelated press conference.

“So we reaffirm our expectation of the school board, as employers, that they act in the best interests of children and that they listen to the voices of families of the children themselves in different schools, and parents who want their children to go to school focused on learning and not have to deal with threats of violence, closures or incidents that are highly distracting and frankly unacceptable in any school environment in the province.”

Lecce said he believes HDSB has the authority to act on the matter and that teachers should uphold the highest standards of professionalism in front of children. "I believe the Ontario College of Teachers corroborated this principle," he said. "They said that the board has the necessary authorities to enforce these standards. So, I expect them to do so.'

HDSB has offered minimal comment on the matter other than to say the board is committed to providing a caring and inclusive school environment.

In response to Lecce's comments, HDSB director of education Curtis Ennis issued a statement suggesting the board position was unmoved by the comments from the province or affected families. The statement read as follows:

“We are sensitive to the toll the ongoing threats continue to have on parents/guardians and students," Ennis said. "It is unsettling that anyone would suggest putting the safety of children at risk. We condemn any messages of hate and violence – it has no place in our schools.

"Individuals within the HDSB have also received multiple death threats in the last number of weeks. But to concede to threats from anonymous sources does not uphold human rights, it undermines and regresses them. Those making the threats are responsible and must be held accountable.  

"Our commitment to human rights is rooted in the HDSB’s core values and commitment to each and every student and staff who identifies as a member of an underserved and underrepresented group, and our approach is informed by opinions from leading employment law firms with human rights and equity advisors.  

"We continue to take pride in the inclusiveness, compassion and respect for human rights that our students and staff have demonstrated during this time. Despite reports in the media, they continue to attend class, learn and work toward their goals for the semester.”

HDSB has worked with Halton Regional Police Service to investigate the threats and believes the threats "lack credibility", the statement added.

"We have every confidence in the security measures and safety procedures in place at all HDSB schools and workplaces," HDSB said, adding they have been in place for over a decade to deal with threats of all types."

Some parents from the affected school have since hired a lawyer and are crowdfunding to challenge the board in court. 

"The teacher’s inappropriate attire and enormous prosthetic breasts have created a significant distraction that has led to serious safety concerns for the students and staff at the school," the Students First Ontario group says on its GoFundMe page. "This includes 3 bomb threats since September 2022. We had expected HDSB to address the situation at the start of the year — but they have allowed it to grow into an international controversy."

The group have raised roughly 70 per cent of their $10,000 fundraising goal.

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Tania Theriault

About the Author: Tania Theriault

Tania is a print and broadcast journalist with over 15 years experience who has recently returned to Canada and is keen to learn all there is to know about Burlington and its welcoming people
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