My name is Carolyn Burjoski, and I was an elementary school teacher with the Waterloo Region District School Board in Ontario, Canada for over 20 years. I worked with children who had gaps in their education because they came from countries with political strife and war. I loved working with New Canadians, meeting their families, and being invited into their homes for wonderful meals. This article from our local newspaper describes the joy of learning that we experienced together.
Throughout my career, my primary focus was on my classroom, and I rarely paid much attention to how our school system is organized. However, in the last few years, I have become concerned with senior leadership’s increasing use of loaded language and their lack of transparency in how they make their decisions.
My Concern with the School Board
My concerns with senior leadership culminated when a local newspaper article reported that the school board was “culling” both WRDSB libraries and teachers’ personal collections of books deemed harmful. Although the culling was already underway, the Board could not answer the reporter’s request for the criteria being used, nor could the Board explain how the team was chosen. Teachers were not informed about the fate of our own collections. In the same article, a senior leader said he was proud of the new diverse books that the board had recently purchased. I read some of these new books in our elementary school library and was shocked by the content. I felt that I needed to speak up to safeguard children in our schools.
My Delegation to the Board of Trustees
I decided to ask the Board to explain the philosophy by which they decided, for example, that Dr. Suess was now considered inappropriate and these new diverse books for young children with sexual content were appropriate. I was granted a delegation at the Board of Trustees meeting on January 17, 2022 and allotted 10 minutes to speak. I read excerpts from two of these children’s books, criticizing the age-appropriateness of the sexual content. Then, less than 4 minutes into my presentation, the Board Chair cut me off and ejected me from the meeting, claiming that my comments violated the Human Rights Code.
The day after the meeting, I was ordered to stay home from school and barred from speaking to my colleagues and students. Because of a Covid lockdown, I hadn’t seen my students since December 2021, and I would never see them again.
Shortly after the meeting, the Board filed a formal complaint against me and hired an outside Firm to conduct a disciplinary investigation, threatening various punishments. I could not believe what was happening to me.
That week, I became the center of a national media frenzy fuelled by statements made by the Board Chair on radio, TV and social media. He attributed to me remarks that I did not make, characterized them as hateful, and accused me of violating the Human Rights Code. The Board quickly removed the meeting video from its website so people could not hear for themselves what I actually said. The Board Chair’s harmful statements about me spread like wildfire over the internet, and I received a tidal wave of online abuse.
The enormous stress on me and my family from these events was overwhelming. On January 22, I suffered a breakdown from extreme anxiety and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. I am still in recovery from this trauma. Just five days before my retirement, the Board appointed Investigator summoned me for questioning and required me to sign a gag order before their interview. The investigation could not proceed any further because my doctor placed me on medical leave. I am now gratefully retired.
A Serious Problem
I believe this incident has exposed a serious problem: school boards are using language and human rights legislation as weapons to intimidate and silence anyone who questions their policies. Using human rights codes to intimidate dissenters and inhibit free speech is an abuse of the code. In my view, the message to all teachers is clear: if you speak up, you will be punished.
I am deeply concerned by the punitive way the Board and its Chair acted in this matter. I attempted to resolve my dispute with the WRDSB by requesting a public apology. They refused. Therefore, I have filed a defamation claim with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice against WRDSB and its Board Chair, Scott Piatkowski, to hold them accountable for their words and actions.
You Can Help Me
Civil litigation is an expensive and daunting process, especially for one individual up against a large institution. My legal team has estimated the cost of pursuing the lawsuit to completion, including trial, at over $100,000. If you want to support my lawsuit, please contribute to my GoFundMe campaign. All funds raised will only be used to pay legal and related expenses. All surplus funds will be donated to a registered charity dedicated to protecting constitutional freedoms.