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Durham District School Board receives investigation report from Ombudsman

DAN CEARNS The Standard

DURHAM: A provincial ombudsman is encouraging the Durham District School Board (DDSB) “to continue to review its meeting practices,” after investigating a complaint.

Included in the agenda, for the December 4th meeting, was correspondence from, Ombudsman, J. Paul Dube.

“My Office received a complaint which raised concerns the Durham District School Board has required members of the public to provide their contact information and show identification, in order to physically attend meetings of the Board of Trustees,” the document states. “The complaint also raised concerns, members of the public were temporarily prohibited from attending Board meetings in person. Finally, the complainant complained, they were denied physical entry to the Standing Committee’s June 5th, 2023 meeting.”

The board had been dealing with issues of audience members halting meetings. At a meeting in February, the chair of the board had to give members of the audience several warnings, not to shout comments following the public question period. When these warnings were not followed, the chair was forced to call a short recess, to gain back control of the meeting.

The report from the Ombudsman first addressed the sign in procedure concern.

“The School Board told my Office, beginning in or around early 2023, increasingly concerning behaviours, including swearing, derogatory comments, and death threats, have been directed at its staff members and Board trustees. In response, the School Board has progressively increased its safety and security protocols. Since May 1st, 2023, in order to attend meetings in person, members of the public have been required to provide their name, telephone number or email address, and show photo identification. Individuals also have the option of observing meetings live on YouTube, without the need to provide identifying information,” his report stated.

In his analysis, Mr. Dube wrote, he is “satisfied the School Board’s security measures, for in-person attendance at meetings, are reasonable in the circumstances, given the safety concerns of the School Board.”

His report also referenced, how, on May 15th, “the Board recessed the meeting twice, and the public gallery was evacuated by security and police, due to disruptive behaviour.” After that meeting, the board announced the “public could not attend meetings in person, until it reviewed its safety protocols and implemented additional security measures.”

“Following a review of its safety protocols and the implementation of additional security measures, the Board resumed in-person attendance at its meetings, on September 5th, 2023. I commend the steps the School Board has taken to resume in-person public attendance at meetings, pursuant to the Regulation’s in-person meeting requirements,” Mr. Dube wrote.

However, Mr. Dube’s report recommended “the School Board should state, in its by-laws, how it provides public notice of meetings, and, to ensure all meeting notices include accurate and up-to-date information.”

In conclusion, Mr. Dube wrote, the board should “continue to review its meeting practices,” and “ensure it places as few conditions, on the public’s ability to freely access and observe open meetings, as is safely possible.”

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