Death threats to defecation. What a Windsor school board endured over gender policy, school naming: ombudsman

Windsor-Essex's public school board has been cleared of wrongdoing by the provincial ombudsman after a series of complaints about the board's naming of the new Kingsville public school and its decision to temporarily bar the public from two meetings last year.

But the reports come with more details about the security and safety threats facing trustees last year when the board was discussing its gender identity policy.

Paul Dubé, Ontario's ombudsman, said in two reports included on an upcoming board agenda, that this office received more than 300 complaints about the naming process for Kingsville's new K-12 school, as well as the procedures and trustee conduct.

Much of the criticism revolved around how the school name chosen was not one of the suggestions from a selection committee, though under board's policy, trustees are not bound by the committee's shortlist in making that decision.

In investigating the complaints, Dubé wrote that he reviewed public and in-camera meeting recordings and minutes, spoke to staff and read policies.

"My review confirmed that the board of trustees acted in accordance with the school board's policies, regulations and the governance bylaws with respect to the processes and procedures for naming this new school," Dubé wrote.

Both reports were released this month.

The GECDSB's decison making around the new Kingsville school name prompted students to rally outside Kingsville District High School on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.
The GECDSB's decison making around the new Kingsville school name prompted students to rally outside Kingsville District High School on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

In a second report, Dubé investigated the board's decision to limit in-person public attendance to school board meetings between June and September 2023.

At the time, the board said it was limiting attendance to live online viewing because of safety concerned expressed by staff and trustees, as the meetings became more heated during discussions of the board's gender expression and identity policy.

The policy stipulates the board that a child can use a different name, pronouns or identify as a different gender while at school without informing parents.

It sparked protests in June, when the public was not permitted inside the meeting, as well as in September.

But the report also found that on Sept. 20, a rock was thrown through the window of a board meeting room office and "one or more people defecated outside of the building in view of staff members' offices."

Two trustees experienced death threats, including a threat of a shooting.

Dubé says he found the school board balanced its responsibilities to public attendance as well as staff and workplace safety, and that the board had limited attendance for safety concerns.

"Once the school board had a safety plan in place, it resumed in-person attendance at its meetings. I commend the steps that the school board has taken to resume in-person public attendance at meetings," he wrote.

Board chair Gale Hatfield said she was in the room when a rock shattered the window — and staff witnessed the defecation incident.

But, she said she also reviewed the board's actions alongside the investigation and was "pleased" with the results.

"The ombudsman's office was very thorough in their investigations of both issues, and I really am thankful that they found that there was no wrongdoing," she said.

"I believe that they would have come to that conclusion from reviewing our actions myself, and I'm glad that the investigation came with that conclusion that there was no wrongdoing."