Parents demanding answers about the Halton school board’s handling of a teacher controversially clad in revealing clothing have been denied a request for a special school council meeting with the acting principal.
The desire to be heard, and the recent change in leadership, are the latest developments at Oakville Trafalgar High School, which has been the centre of a controversy garnering global headlines since photos circulated online showing a trans teacher with oversized prosthetic breasts and protruding nipples.
“This veil of secrecy is not working for anyone,” said Scott Miller, the co-chair of the school council who requested a special meeting for Friday. “We want dialogue … We just want to understand what the school and board’s policies are going forward because we’ve all got children in the school.”
Earlier this week, Miller had requested a special meeting with the school’s acting principal — the vice-principal is now at the helm for the remainder of the first semester, while the principal is on a temporary leave. On Tuesday, Miller’s request was denied by Superintendent Jacqueline Newton because discussing a board employee is outside the school advisory council’s statutory authority, she said in a letter to council.
“Discussion of an individual employee of the board or any other personnel matter will be ruled out of order,” at the next regularly scheduled meeting, she wrote. “The service of council members and your support of Oakville Trafalgar High School during this challenging year is greatly appreciated.”
School council meetings for the academic year were previously approved and the next one is Feb. 16.
“I’m really disheartened,” said Miller, after learning the request was denied. “These students are not the school’s top priority.”
After photos of the teacher circulated online in September, the school became the site of protests, bomb threats and a police presence.
“This is a disruptive environment and it just seems to us that from day one, the priority has not been the children,” said Miller, adding that parents’ concerns about the teacher’s attire have not been listened to by the Halton District School Board. “We have no issue with the teacher’s expression, or their gender … What is an issue is the noncommunication line between the board and parents.”
Despite various complaints to the board throughout the fall, senior staff have maintained that even though it has a dress code for students, one for staff could not be enacted over fears it would open the board to “considerable liability” and may violate the human rights code.
At a special board meeting last week, trustees passed a motion calling on the director to develop a “professionalism policy,” which outlines staff expectations, including the requirement for “appropriate and professional standards of dress.” The policy is due by March 1, with an interim report expected in February.
Halton board Chair Margo Shuttleworth said school operations are matters where staff have authority, not trustees, and “the superintendent of the school has been intrinsically involved in anything that’s been going on.”
However, she added, the trustees’ motion for a professionalism policy is “having a consistent approach to a policy that we think is important to have.”
Education Minister Stephen Lecce has said there are “profound concerns” over the way senior administrators at the board have handled the issue, but welcomed a professionalism policy.