Defeated trustee sets record straight over discipline

A school trustee of more than 25 years, who lost in the recent election after it was reported he was temporarily banned from attending events on behalf of the school board, says his punishment did not fit his offence.

Peter Kotyk did not initially respond to requests for comment when the Free Press learned his River East Transcona School Division trustee colleagues had unanimously disciplined him “for breaching the board code of ethics.”

In an interview this week, Kotyk said he agreed with friends that he needed to focus on his campaign at the time, one week before voters went to the polls.

Since then, he said he has heard from countless concerned constituents and wants to set the record straight.

“I’m not perfect, but I didn’t physically, mentally, or emotionally hurt anyone. I only did what trustees are elected to do, and that is to represent the public. I thanked people and I gave away a few awards (at an outdoor convocation),” Kotyk said this week.

“I did what I did and I was punished for it — much more severely than I would have ever imagined.”

It is customary for trustees to engage in community events and give remarks. If he had been re-elected, the sanction Kotyk was given would have complicated his ability to do his job.

Sept. 20 meeting minutes show every trustee but Kotyk voted to place a disciplinary letter in his personnel file and ban him from representing the board at graduations and K-12 events in 2022-23.

Then-board chairman Jerry Sodomlak said in an Oct. 19 statement that trustees identified COVID-19 protocols for year-end celebrations in the spring and voted on them. Sodomlak noted Kotyk broke those rules at an event, but did not specify what had happened.

Public health protocols significantly limited participation in convocations in 2020 and 2021. In 2022, trustees in the division agreed to allow each other to attend events, but continued to prohibit presentations.

Manitoba ended virtually all COVID-19 mandates and restrictions in the winter, about three months before graduation season.

Kotyk attended the McLeod Adult Learning Centre’s convocation in June and watched mature members of the Class of 2022 cross an outdoor stage with approximately 250 attendees at the Rossmere venue.

The veteran trustee said he was asked if he wanted to make a few celebratory remarks and hand out school board awards, and he accepted both offers.

Following a brief speech — during which Kotyk said he congratulated students, thanked families for attending and bid farewell to the outgoing adult learning centre director, he provided several awards and fist-bumped graduates.

Kotyk indicated it was his impression the trustee COVID-19 protocols were put in place in the context of indoor ceremonies and he made a common-sense decision in the moment that he does not regret because “those (graduates) deserve to be recognized.”

A division insider corroborated his account of the event. The source noted school leaders were not informed about the board rules.

The board considers the internal matter closed, according to a joint statement from RETSD that was attributed to superintendent Sandra Herbst and board chairwoman Colleen Carswell.

Incumbent trustee Susan Olynik and Brenda Bage, a parent in RETSD who works as an educational assistant elsewhere, were elected to serve Ward 4 residents with 5,002 and 3,783 votes, respectively. Bage secured the second seat with 295 more ballots than Kotyk.

Following his 27-year run as trustee, Kotyk said he can live with defeat, but he cannot live with people thinking he committed an egregious offence.

It remains unclear who dropped slips of paper in North Kildonan mailboxes, including Kotyk’s, that declared he had been “BANNED!” from school events during the final stretch of the election late last month.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press