Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustee Weidong Pei is calling on the school board to suspend all dealings with the controversial “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” (DEI) consultancy KOJO Institute following the suicide of a principal who is alleged to have been bullied at one of their sessions.

The Ward 12 Trustee’s demand comes after Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce ordered a review of the circumstances surrounding the recent suicide of 60-year-old Richard Bilkszto, who committed suicide after his family claimed that he dealt with plaguing stress stemming from a confrontation at the training.

Lecce, who called the situation “serious” and “disturbing,” also ordered his staff to review school training for teachers and to provide “options to reform professional training and strengthen accountability on school boards so this never happens again.” 

The TDSB announced Thursday that it has launched its own investigation into the circumstances surrounding Bilkszto’s death. Toronto’s largest school board says it stands by holding regular DEI training sessions for staff – claiming they’re “important.”

In an email to TDSB director Colleen Russell-Rawlins, Pei said he is expecting her to “report that the Board has suspended all dealings with the KOJO Institute and its officers and employees, pending the results of the investigation into Richard’s death.”

Pei also said he expects Russell-Rawlins’ Leadership Statemate at the upcoming Aug. 30 board meeting to “include a fitting remembrance of the life and contributions to the TDSB of Richard Bilkszto, an acknowledgement of the emotional harm that he suffered as a result of attending a professional development event sponsored by the TDSB, and a commitment to fully cooperate with the Ministry of Education’s inquiry into the broader circumstances of Richard’s death.”

As previously reported by True North’s Sue-Ann Levy, Bilkszto had filed a $750,000 lawsuit against the TDSB alleging breach of contract, defamation of character and reprisal by the board’s senior administrators after he was allegedly repeatedly labelled a “white supremacist,” shamed and humiliated. The lawsuit has however yet to be served to the board.

According to the statement of claim, Bilkszto, who previously taught in the United States, politely challenged KOJO Institute founder and principal consultant Kike Ojo-Thompson after she claimed Canada was more racist than America and a bastion of white supremacy.

The lawsuit claims Ojo-Thompson responded to Bilkszto’s objection by telling him, “we are here to talk about anti-black racism but you in your whiteness think that you can tell me what’s really going on for black people?”

Ojo-Thompson then allegedly continued to harass Bilkszto, repeatedly calling his response “resistance in support of white supremacy.” She subsequently suggested that the TDSB take action against Bilkszto for allegedly choosing not to “unlearn” his white supremacism.

Bilkszto ended up taking stress leave. He then sought a ruling from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) – which ruled in his favour. The KOJO Institute said it had no involvement in the WSIB hearing.

The lawsuit claims that despite the ruling, the TDSB reneged on the contract to hire Bilkszto at Burnhamthorpe Collegiate when he returned from sick leave. He had other contracts revoked and failed to get other internal positions as well.

When pressed for comment on Pei’s demand, TDSB spokesperson Shari Schwartz-Maltz directed True North to the board’s statement announcing it had retained the King International Advisory Group to conduct its own investigation.

“Toronto District School Board has launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the tragic passing of Richard Bilkszto, retaining King International Advisory Group, an experienced and well-respected investigative firm with multi-disciplinary expertise in conducting thorough investigations,” reads the statement. 

“Our intention is for this investigation to be conducted in a professional, sensitive and respectful manner.”

The board also said that “regular equity training sessions for all staff support student achievement and well-being and are an important aspect of the Board’s approved multi-year strategic priorities. Effective learning takes place in a supportive environment that fosters honest dialogue and is based on respect and learning.”

“We express our continued condolences to Richard’s family, friends and colleagues. Our Employee and Family Assistance Program remains available at any time for staff in need.”

True North also reached out to the KOJO Institute for comment, but they did not respond in time for publication.