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Chair Tsiakos' opening remarks at Board of Education Meeting

September 21, 2021

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Board of Education Public Board Meeting 
September 21, 2021

I would like to acknowledge and thank the Coast Salish people on whose traditional territory the North Vancouver School District resides. We express our gratitude to the Skwxwú7mesh Nation and Tsleil-Waututh Nation, and we value the opportunity to learn, live, and share educational experiences on this traditional territory. 

Before we begin our regular meeting Agenda, there is another matter that I would like to address regarding the Board. The North Vancouver Board of Trustees recognizes the critical trust invested in the Board and we are dedicated to governing the affairs and business of the North Vancouver School District with integrity and in a fair, respectful, and professional manner.  The Board's Trustee Code of Ethics sets out commitments that govern the actions of all Trustees and which promote the integrity and accountability of Trustees for their conduct. 

Toward the end of the 2020/21 school year, two matters arose that the Board addressed under our Trustee Code of Ethics and related administrative procedures.  This resulted in the Board holding in-camera meetings and rendering two decisions.  Though the Board's in-camera proceedings are private and confidential, the Board determined that it was reasonable and appropriate to indicate publicly its disposition of the complaints. The Board's resolutions therefore addressed the sharing of this information. 

What follows is the only statement the Board will make about these two decisions.  

June 9, 2021 Board decision

During an in-camera meeting on June 9, 2021, the Board determined that it was appropriate and necessary to censure Trustee Gerlach following a Trustee complaint made under the Board's Trustee Code of Ethics Policy 108.  The Board did not make this decision lightly and the subject matter relates to a breach of trust and loyalty. Trustee Gerlach's conduct included the disclosure to a third-party advocacy group of information that Trustee Gerlach obtained in her capacity as a Trustee. It also included Trustee Gerlach's mischaracterization of the use and intended use of spaces by the District at the public Board meeting of February 23, 2021. The Board concluded that:
  • ​Trustee Gerlach's conduct was a conflict of interest and a breach of the duty of loyalty owed by a Trustee; 

  • Trustee Gerlach failed to take reasonable steps to ensure that her obligations as a Trustee were met; and  ​

  • Trustee Gerlach's conduct in this matter does not reflect the high regard that the Board has for School and District staff and her actions have had an adverse impact on the mutual respect, working relationships, and trust that Trustees are committed to maintaining under the Trustee Code of Ethics.

To address Trustee Gerlach's conduct, the Board has applied remedial sanctions.  In doing so, the Board considered that Trustee Gerlach had previously been subject to prior disciplinary sanctions under the Code of Ethics.  In addition to this public censure, the Board has removed Trustee Gerlach from leadership roles on internal committees and has implemented alternate procedures for Trustee Gerlach's access to confidential information.  These measures will be in place for the duration of Trustee Gerlach's term of office.  Trustee Gerlach was also required to and did direct a personal apology to staff impacted by her conduct through the Superintendent.  The Board is also implementing additional mandatory training for Trustee Gerlach regarding the statutory and common law obligations of trustees and additional training and coaching to facilitate Trustee Gerlach's compliance with her obligations as a Trustee.

September 7, 2021 Board decision

The second matter relates to Trustee Gerlach's conduct at the public Board meeting on May 18, 2021.  On June 22, 2021, I issued a related statement regarding this conduct on behalf of the Board. 

During an in-camera meeting on September 7, 2021, the Board determined that it was appropriate and necessary to censure Trustee Gerlach following a Trustee complaint made under the Board's Trustee Code of Ethics Policy 108.  As part of this censure, the Board expresses its unequivocal condemnation for Trustee Gerlach's conduct and a unanimous expression of support for her resignation from the Board as the only responsible means of demonstrating personal accountability for her actions. 

Once again, the Board did not make this decision lightly and it is based on the following findings: 

  • In the May 18, 2021, public Board meeting, District staff gave a presentation about adaptable and flexible spaces at Argyle Secondary. In response, Trustee Gerlach made comments and drew a comparison that minimized the residential school experience of Indigenous people.  These comments were unacceptable, highly inappropriate, insensitive, inexcusable, and are not representative of the collective Board.

  • Trustee Gerlach's offensive comments have caused hurt and pain to persons including members of the Skwxwú7mesh Nation and the Tsleil-Waututh Nation on whose traditional territory the District resides, as well as Indigenous students, educators, and staff who contribute so greatly to the District community.

  • Trustee Gerlach's Offensive Comments undermine trust and confidence in the Board and District as a safe and welcoming space for the Host Nations and other Indigenous members of the District community. The comments are also an example of the continued legacy and impacts of residential schools. 

  • It is acknowledged that Trustee Gerlach's conduct is a matter of concern for the Board in circumstances where trust and confidence in her judgement has been undermined.

  • Trustee Gerlach has been subject to repeated, prior, and progressive remedial sanctions by the Board under the Trustee Code of Ethics (Policy 108) due to her conduct as a Trustee. Remedial sanctions have included the removal of various duties and privileges normally afforded to a Trustee.   Past efforts to remedy Trustee Gerlach's conduct through remedial sanctions, training, and support, have not been successful in preventing reoccurrence of conduct of concern and conduct in breach of the Trustee Code of Ethics.

  • It is incumbent on Trustees to take all reasonable measures to ensure they are able to meet their obligations as a Trustee and to be accountable for their actions.​

  • Trustee Gerlach's offensive comments are so disrespectful as to be evidence of unfitness for elected office and when in office, her activities as a Trustee should not be unfettered. 

In relation to these concerning findings, the Board concluded as follows:​

  • Trustee Gerlach's conduct does not model or contribute to a positive and receptive learning and working culture within the Board and the District and does not demonstrate mutual respect or represent the District as a safe, welcoming, and inclusive space.

  • Trustee Gerlach opted not to be present during the in-camera hearing and instead submitted a written statement for the Board's consideration.  In that statement she provided her position and affirmed that she considered the matter to be closed.  Trustee Gerlach's limited participation in our internal administrative procedures was inconsistent with the commitment of Trustees to act with integrity and to be accountable for their actions and decisions. 

  • Trustee Gerlach failed to take reasonable steps to ensure that her obligations as a Trustee were met.

  • Trustee Gerlach's conduct in promoting her advocacy interests in a manner that is in conflict with and contrary to the interests of the Board and the District community to advance reconciliation was a breach of the duty of loyalty owed by a Trustee.

  • Trustee Gerlach's conduct does not reflect the high regard that the Board has for the Host Nations and Indigenous students, educators, and staff who contribute so greatly to the District community.

  • Trustee Gerlach's conduct includes discrediting comments about others and unwarranted criticism.

  • ​Trustee Gerlach's actions have had an adverse impact to the mutual respect, working relationships and trust that Trustees are committed to maintaining under the Code of Ethics.

  • Trustee Gerlach's offensive comments are inconsistent with District values which, include trust, respect, responsibility and, collaboration. Furthermore, the comments are inconsistent with the District's goals of providing a welcoming and inclusive culture and working toward truth, healing, and reconciliation.

    As a result of these conclusions and to ensure Trustee Gerlach's accountability as a Trustee, the Board will address Trustee Gerlach's conduct by way of additional remedial sanctions. The following sanctions will remain in place to the end of her term of office:
    • ​Trustee Gerlach may only participate in full Board meetings and other meetings or events to which she is invited by the Board Chair;
    • Trustee Gerlach will be removed from and will no longer be appointed to committees and other assignments of the Board, internal or external to the District;
    • Trustee Gerlach will not engage directly with staff or students at District schools in her capacity as a Trustee; and
    • Trustee Gerlach will attend an accredited program of study including topics of Truth and Reconciliation and restorative communication.
    • Trustee Gerlach will refrain from initiating contact with or addressing comments to the Host Nations in her capacity as a Trustee in the absence of a direct invitation from the Host Nations.​

  • Trustee Gerlach will also direct a personal apology to the School and District staff impacted by her conduct through the Superintendent.

Concluding comments:

I want to emphasize that the Board followed the policies and procedures it has in place to address challenging matters of this nature. As previously noted, the Board did not reach its conclusions or make its determinations lightly. As a Board, these are difficult but important matters to address because it is the right thing to do for the Board and the School District.  

As I have previously stated on behalf of the Board, I would like to again offer my most sincere apology for the hurt and pain Trustee Gerlach's offensive remarks of May 18, 2021 have caused. 

Our Board of Education and the North Vancouver School District remain committed to reconciliation through education, and we look forward to a school year like none other as we progress towards truth, healing, and reconciliation through leadership, courage, commitment, and hard work. 

Soon after the TRC Calls to Action were released, the Board of Education and North Vancouver School District wrote an open letter to the community in support of the TRC’s Calls to Action for Education. In the letter, we joined the Commission in asserting, “Schools must teach history in ways that foster mutual respect, empathy and engagement. All Canadian children and youth deserve to know Canada’s honest history, including what happened in the residential schools, and to appreciate the rich history and knowledge of Indigenous nations.” Furthermore, we agreed with the Commission's statement that “...all Canadians have a critical role to play in advancing reconciliation."

As we move forward into this new school year, we are actively taking steps to rededicate our efforts. 
As previously announced, we have launched a new Ten-Year Strategic Plan which reaffirms our commitment to truth, healing, and reconciliation and embedding Indigenous worldviews and ways of knowing. Through our strategic goals, our collective hope is to educate and support citizens of humanity to have the knowledge, skills and thoughtful and compassionate attitude needed to contribute to a healthy, inclusive, and equitable society for all.

We thank our partners in this work, including the Host Nations and our District staff, students, and parents as we further this journey of truth, healing, and reconciliation.

More generally, as we move forward, we are very excited about what is unfolding in our District this year including: the official opening of Argyle Secondary and raising of the new Welcome Pole; the completion of the seismically safe and renovated Mountainside Secondary; the completion and opening of the new Handsworth Secondary School (7 months early!); implementation of a new 10-year strategic plan; and ideally, the resumption of winter concerts, sports games and regular grade 7 and 12 graduation ceremonies.

These are all very positive developments that are a testament to the hard work and vision of our Board and District community.

Thank you.

George Tsiakos
Chair, Board of Education