School Board Trustee censured and barred: Ramsay v. Waterloo Region District School Board

Elected school board trustee Mike Ramsay was censured by his colleagues on the Waterloo Region District School Board for having voiced his disagreement over how the school board chairman had treated teacher Carolyn Burjoski. Ms. Burjoski had her microphone cut off and was expelled from a public meeting in January 2022 (watch here) after expressing concerns about age-inappropriate books in school libraries.

In his October 2022 “Re-elect Mike Ramsay” message to the public, Mr. Ramsay proclaimed that it was time to “redirect the school board focus on student learning and achievement and not political indoctrination. Political indoctrination has no place in our classrooms.”  In his election material, Mr. Ramsay publicly called out Critical Race Theory as a “divisive concept that presumes that some students are racist and oppressive, while others are victims.” This theory is taught in Ontario schools.

Trustee Ramsay is off to a strong start on his election promises.  On June 6, 2023, the Ontario Divisional Court will be hearing a judicial review brought by Trustee Ramsay challenging the Waterloo Region District School Board’s 2022 decision that he breached the Trustee Code of Conduct. The Judicial Review will also review the sanctions that were levied on Trustee Ramsay by the Board.

The previous year, on June 6, 2022, the Waterloo school board voted 6 to 3 against Trustee Ramsay, alleging that he had violated the Waterloo School Board’s Code of Ethics. Trustee Ramsay submitted a request for reconsideration, arguing that the Board’s decision was unfair, unreasonable and unconstitutional.

The Waterloo Board’s response was a vote to censure Trustee Ramsay by banning him from attending school board meetings until September 30, 2022 and further prohibiting him from obtaining in camera materials that were available to the other trustees and were critical to their decision making.  Mr. Ramsay was thus prevented from performing his duty as a democratically-elected school trustee to the more than 10,000 voters who had elected him to represent them.

The Board’s decision to censure Trustee Ramsay was the conclusion of a formal inquiry which began in February 2022, when a fellow school board member had submitted a formal complaint against him. The complaint alleged that Trustee Ramsay had failed to uphold the dignity and integrity of his office by engaging in uncivil behaviour.

The alleged uncivil behaviour refers to Trustee Ramsay retweeting an article by journalist Jonathan Kay, which was critical of the Board’s decision to abruptly terminate a presentation, to the Board, by former school board teacher Carolyn Burjoski.

Trustee Ramsay is asserting his right to free expression which he argues was infringed by the Board.

The Board’s difficulty upholding free expression appears to extend to the general public that they serve, as well. Mr. Ramsay did not support the Board’s ideological direction for student learning that included identity politics and potential age-inappropriate books for students and, in particular, he did not support shutting down individuals, such as Ms. Burjoski, who wanted to speak to the Board about these issues and their concerns about them (see Ms. Burjoski’s Board delegation and subsequent shut-down here).

Trustee Ramsay has been critical of the secrecy involved in the school board complaint process that allowed him to be banned from effectively serving the public without the public knowing all the facts. He argues that the Board breached its duty of fairness by deliberating in private whereas he stands for an open and transparent process that enables the public to access all the necessary information to hold the trustees accountable for their decisions.

Trustee Ramsay has a long history of serving his community as a police officer and as a school board trustee, for twenty-five years. In his re-election message, Mike Ramsay promised that he had the abilities, experience and leadership skills to fight for change, accountability and transparency. He is holding to his word.

June 6, 2023:

On June 6, 2023, the Ontario Divisional Court heard Trustee Mike Ramsay’s legal challenge to the Waterloo Region District School Board’s 2022 decision finding him in breach of the Trustee Code of Conduct for expressing disagreement with the January 17, 2022 decision of the Board Chair to stop the presentation at a public meeting of then-teacher Carolyn Burjoski about alleged inappropriate materials in schools. Trustee Ramsay is further challenging the Board’s decision to censure him, bar him from attending Board meetings for three months, and prohibit him from receiving in-camera Board materials.

“Trustee Ramsay’s case is important because it engages, not only his own personal right to free expression, but also the values of democracy embodied in his role as an elected representative” says lawyer for Trustee Ramsay, Hatim Kheir. He continues: “When Trustee Ramsay was silenced, his constituents were also silenced. We are hopeful that this case will provide guidance to school boards going forward that trustees should unreasonably be excluded from exercising their duties.”

As of June 2023, we are awaiting a decision.

June 20, 2023:

Hear Trustee Mike Ramsay’s story in his own words:



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