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Jul. 7, 2020 | Tuesday
Editorials and Opinions
Opinion: Niagara school board’s disgraceful cone of silence
Photo Illustration combining the Canadian and North Korean flags. (Richard Harley)


The District School Board in Niagara seems to be working harder than ever to maintain its reputation as the worst school board in Ontario.

That’s how it appears — except it’s hard to tell. We voters can’t really know what’s going on, thanks to the Cone of Silence imposed by board chair Sue Barnett.

We’re not allowed to know, according to the edict imposed by “Silent Sue” on the perpetually underperforming DSBN. This board and its chair barely seem to even realize that we live in a democracy.

How else to explain the disgraceful gag order imposed by the board after one trustee, Kate Baggott, dared to suggest change? Baggott’s crime? At a public board meeting she asked if the board could come up with a better way to review the performance of its education director, Warren Hoshizaki.

Is Hoshizaki doing a good job? Who knows? He was paid nearly $272,000 by the taxpayers in 2017, by the way.

In requesting a performance review, Baggott, who represents Niagara-on-the-Lake and St. Catharines, said she was not implying criticism — people just want to know more.

Knowing stuff is apparently too much for Silent Sue and the dismal DSBN. Not only did they shoot down Baggott’s idea; another trustee, Jonathan Fast, filed a complaint, saying Baggott has violated the board’s code of conduct.

That may be the most activity that Slow Jonathan Fast has shown in his entire career as a school trustee.

Nevertheless, the gag order is real, Silent Sue Barnett says. She says the board’s code of conduct, which all boards are required to have, says that only the chair is allowed to speak to the public “unless otherwise determined by the board.”

She explained to the St. Catharines Standard that trustees are required to be authorized by the chair to express their opinions in public and must make it clear that they aren’t speaking on behalf of the board.

Now, it’s true that there are valid reasons for school boards both to have a code of conduct and to insist that school board members abide by one. It doesn’t serve democracy to have elected officials slandering or maligning people or policies they don’t like, or lying or contradicting what a board or any other public body has decided.

Not that it doesn’t happen, of course.

In any case, there is a world of difference between a reasonable code of conduct for officials and a North Korea-style gag order that would sanction people we elect for simply expressing an opinion or putting forward an idea. This board needs to be re-educated on what a code of conduct is and what should go into one.

We can do better. Someone ought to remind Silent Sue and Slow Jonathan Fast that we elect people precisely to hear their opinions. Voters are supposed to hear what people have to say and choose.

Full disclosure: I learned this because in the last election I ran for the DSBN and lost.

Perhaps it was for the best — had I won, Silent Sue might have ordered me not to write this.

* David Israelson is journalist and resident of Niagara-on-the-Lake.