Lawyer Julian Falconer called out the “culture of fear” at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) in his $1-million report in 2008.
Respected education consultant Margaret Wilson reiterated that sentiment following her review in 2015, stating that the “culture of fear” is so endemic to the board that many staff are too afraid to use board email addresses out of concern of being monitored.
That was when Donna Quan was director and left only two years into her term amid allegations of financial mismanagement– walking away with a $600,000 payout.
Fast forward to 2023.
It seems that was nothing compared to the environment under the current black activist education director Colleen Russell-Rawlins, sources insist.
Many working for the board say they now face a “culture of terror.”
Russell-Rawlins came to the TDSB in the summer of 2021 from the Peel District School Board where sources say during her one year as interim director, she permitted black activists with the Peel Black Lives Matter movement and “anti-oppression” consultant Kike Ojo-Thompson to call the shots with their toxic anti-white agenda.
The terror is so profound, say a series of principals who wish to remain anonymous out of concern for their jobs, they are often left “frozen in fear” that they might be called out for some unsubstantiated act of racism or microaggression.
I met with four TDSB principals recently in the wake of the tragic suicide of their colleague Richard Bilkszto, which they say has left them reeling but not surprised that a TDSB educator could be driven over the edge.
The 24-year principal took his own life in mid-July.
His family and his lawyer, Lisa Bildy, have claimed he suffered from immense stress and anxiety after he was humiliated in front of 200 of his peers and board administrators by Ojo-Thompson.
At the two 2021 DEI sessions during which he was targeted by the KOJO Institute director as a white supremacist and a “weed,” not one of his peers rose to his defense, Bilkzsto’s much publicized court claim says.
Even though an WSIB adjudicator ruled that the speaker’s conduct was “abusive, egregious and vexatious” and could be considered “workplace harassment and bullying” the highly celebrated educator was subsequently isolated and shut out of several part-time contracts by a series of superintendents under Russell-Rawlins’ leadership.
The four principals who met with me say they’ve either been subjected to the same toxic treatment and egregious punishment by administrators who want to make them scapegoats. Or they’ve observed it meted out to others.
“All of us are terrified,” the four principals agreed. “We sit in our offices afraid (we could be next.)”
They painted a picture of a board culture where gaslighting is common; incestuousness is rampant, hiring and promotional activity is based on skin color and adherence to the woke mandate and white principals are left hung out to dry (often for manufactured issues) with little recourse.
I sent a series of questions outlining their concerns to Russell-Rawlins through board spokesman Ryan Bird.
He said that while they appreciate the opportunity, they don’t have any further comment “beyond existing statements from the past week or so.”
One statement on July 27 announced that the board has launched an investigation into the Bilkszto affair using their own contractor. That made it obvious the real problems at the board – which stem from Russell-Rawlins’ leadership and that of her acolytes – would not be investigated.
That was reinforced by a clearly tone deaf statement from Russell-Rawlins the very next day, reinforcing their commitment to anti-black racism training.
One principal said there have been several principals and vice principals sent home under the director’s leadership–certainly more than the 10, the director has claimed. They have been forced to cool their heels with no communication for months or years, the principal said.
This principal said they’re off for “ridiculous accusations of racism” and are unable to defend themselves because every time they do they are “called racist.”
A number of them are off due to stress and fear of potential allegations.
“The culture of terror is real,” this principal said.
Another principal, who attended our meeting, said they were left to sit at home for months while the board investigated an event at their school for which they had no connection.
Despite that, the principal, who had an exemplary record, was disciplined. “You’re just sent home and completely isolated in a hole that you can’t dig out of,” they said.
Like Bilkszto, this principal also contemplated suicide.
In three decades with the board, one principal said they’ve “never ever seen anything like it.”
“Colleen Russell-Rawlins has made the system so divisive,” they said.
“They’re like Mean Girls,” said the long-time principal of the largely racialized administrators hired since Russell-Rawlins came to the board.
“They’re not professional at all… they don’t do their jobs, they just squash you and silence you in meetings.”
Another principal took a stress leave last year after being harassed repeatedly by black activists in the community (empowered by the board’s senior management team) for an incident that occurred at school.
The principal jumped through hoops to rectify the situation and said that at meetings the activists chastised, demeaned and ridiculed them while their superiors stood by and let it happen.
With everything that has happened and the Ontario Principals Council being weak and ineffectual, they say they have to “protect each other.”
I asked them how they manage to do their jobs everyday with so many distractions and so much fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.
They all said they give it their best despite that being like a “band-aid on a jugular bleed.”
“We do our best to protect our kids,” they agreed. “We have to make sure they’re learning and are safe.”