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Sunday, July 30, 2023

Toronto Canada: Principal Commits Suicide After Being Accused of White Supremacy By a DEI Trainer


Jamie Sarkonak: Principal berated for 'white supremacy' sues TDSB over equity training

Alleged bullying incident shows why public shouldn't be paying for diversity, equity and inclusion training

Jamie Sarkonak,, July 6, 2023 

The problem with workplace diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training is that it can involve the berating of staff so bad that it leads to workers’ compensation claims — and even lawsuits.

It’s a lesson that’s currently being learned by Toronto District School Board (TDSB). In April, principal Richard Bilkszto sued TDSB for its failure to defend him in an allegedly hostile DEI training session that took place in 2021, where it was insinuated that he was a white supremacist for defending Canada as a less-racist place than the United States. TDSB has since sued the company that gave the DEI training, the KOJO Institute, for negligence and for breaching contract — asking for damages in the amount it will need to pay Bilkszto if he wins. Late Thursday afternoon, TDSB told the National Post that it plans to discontinue its lawsuit, though the claim is still active.

The National Post has obtained both statements of claim, which were filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in April. While the allegations within haven’t been proven in court, they provide an outline of what supposedly happened. Audio recordings of the training sessions obtained by the Post are consistent with the dialogue quoted in the court filings.

It all began with a DEI course for TDSB administrators that started in April 2021. DEI trainer Kike Ojo-Thompson (the CEO of the KOJO Institute) led a series of sessions for TDSB higher-ups in which she made a number of familiar progressive arguments, according to Bilkszto’s court filing: Canada is a more racist place than the U.S., Canada is a “bastion of white supremacy and colonialism,” capitalism and the patriarchy are killing people, etc. (The KOJO Institute did not respond to requests for comment for this story by deadline.)

For context, the KOJO Institute has many clients in public institutions. Listed clients include the RCMP, the Ontario government, the CBC, various universities and the federal government (the official records database shows that about $100,000 in federal dollars have been spent on service contracts with KOJO). It’s likely that the public has paid for many of these training sessions.

As support for the claim that Canada is more racist than its southern counterpart, Ojo-Thompson allegedly pointed to her own experience of living in both places and a Maclean’s article that “showed how we were more racist on a number of critical indicators than the U.S.” (Such an argument was made in a 2015 Maclean’s article that compared Canadian Indigenous statistics on unemployment, income, homicide and such to those of Black Americans.)

Ojo-Thompson taught the class that Canada’s status as a monarchy was a marker of racism, according to the court documents: “At least (the U.S.) had a fighting posture against at least the monarchy, here we celebrate the monarchy, the very heart and soul and origins of the colonial structure.” National attitudes of politeness further made Canadians less likely to speak up against racism, she said later on.

For the record, the British monarchy was actually pretty good at fighting the scourge of slavery, having outlawed the trade in 1807. It dedicated a good chunk of public resources to dismantling the international slave trade that was driven by Americans (and some African kingdoms). The Brits weren’t perfect, but they were miles ahead of the Americans on the slavery file.

Bilkszto, who had a 24-year career as a principal and previously taught at an inner-city Buffalo school — and witnessed serious differences in how Black and white students were treated there — didn’t think it was fair to call Canada the greater harbourer of racism, according to his court filing. Citing public health care and a more equal funding system for education, he spoke up.

“To sit here and talk about facts and figures and then walk into the classroom tomorrow and say ‘Canada is just as bad as the United States,’ I think we are doing an incredible disservice to our learners,” he told the class.

Ojo-Thompson is described to have reacted with vitriol: “We are here to talk about anti-Black racism, but you in your whiteness think that you can tell me what’s really going on for Black people?” Bilkszto replied that racism is very real, and that there’s plenty of room for improvement — but that the facts still show Canada is a fairer place. Another KOJO training facilitator jumped in, telling Bilkszto that “if you want to be an apologist for the U.S. or Canada, this is really not the forum for that.” Ojo-Thompson concluded the exchange by telling the class that “your job in this work as white people is to believe” — not to question claims of racism.

Nobody from TDSB interjected at any point to defend Bilkszto and stop the DEI trainers from berating a staff member, according to the court filing. After the class, a TDSB superintendent even thanked the KOJO Institute in a tweet for “modelling the discomfort administrators may need to experience in order to disrupt (anti-Black racism).” The day after, Bilkszto was given a talking-to by his higher-ups about his “male white privilege” and the “fallout” from the training. Instead of defending him, they berated him further.

In the next session, Ojo-Thompson is said to have referred to Bilkszto’s comments as an example of “resistance” that upholds white supremacy. She explained that his reference to “facts” was an attempt to derail the conversation and discredit her words, and encouraged everyone to push back when they see others being “accosted by white supremacy.”

After this, Bilkszto went on sick leave for workplace harassment. While TDSB wasn’t helpful, Toronto School Administrators’ Association and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) supported his claim, the association calling for an investigation into what happened (no investigation was initiated). The worker’s compensation board awarded loss of earnings benefits between May 11 and July 1 of 2021 for chronic mental stress.

“Based on the information on file, I am satisfied that the conduct of the speaker … was abusive, egregious and vexatious, and rises to the level of workplace harassment and bullying,” wrote the worker’s compensation decision, which was also obtained by the National Post. WSIB’s view was that the DEI trainer intended to “cause reputational damage and to ‘make an example’” of the principal. TDSB didn’t dispute Bilkszto’s recollection of events to the compensation board, nor did it appeal the compensation board’s award (the deadline for disputing the claim has passed).

Despite the school board’s lack of support for its longtime principal, TDSB’s statement of claim against the KOJO Institute seems to take Bilkszto’s side. The school board alleges that the DEI consulting firm was negligent and in breach of contract by making Bilkszto feel harassed, humiliated and defamed.

Bilkszto, a contract principal for the board, returned to work after six weeks of sick leave, but wasn’t reinstated to the position he had been in prior. An additional contract for a principal term was revoked. At the time his statement of claim was filed, he’d only been able to obtain eight weeks of contract work with the school board. Between the alleged defamation and contract breaches, he’s seeking $785,000 in damages.

These lawsuits are in the early stages of the court process, so it’s possible they could settle long before they make it to trial. (Lisa Bildy, Bilkszto’s lawyer, told the National Post that the TDSB has yet to be served with the statement of claim, so the TDSB has not had to file a statement of defence in return.)

Still, the court filings launching these lawsuits paint a picture of how workplace DEI training relies on coercion and ridicule to force employees to bend the knee to a certain set of racialist, sometimes ahistorical, beliefs. Those who don’t comply just might end up in a struggle session.

National Post

• Email: | Twitter: sarkonakj

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect TDSB’s legal plans.

Michael Higgins: School principal's death is a stain on the conscience of this nation

It's time to stand up against the woke zealots who destroyed Richard Bilkszto

Inquiry needed into the death of Richard Bilkszto

NP View: Richard Bilkszto cherished merit and equality — Canada should, tooThe former principal's beliefs about fairness stand in sharp contrast to the illiberal values being promoted by DEI trainers

Letters: Tragic suicide of bullied school principal demands a full inquiry

Readers decry the death of Richard Bilkszto, along with the GG's outsized spending and suggestions that Toronto is Islamophobic

Rather than wasting money on DEI training, school boards should be focused on education and improving the lives of disenfranchised students

The incident, Kike Ojo-Thompson said, had been weaponized to discredit and suppress diversity, equity and inclusion work

Friday, July 28, 2023

UFT Pressures School Therapists To Vote Again On Rejected Contract


UFT President Michael Mulgrew talks at City Hall about reaching a tentative contract agreement, June 13, 2023.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Social media has criticized Mike for usurping UFT members' rights, but I don't understand why. He was voted back in as President in the last vote, and since day one has been openly and clearly uninterested in the needs of members

Just read my blog posts. You'll see what I mean.

Just sayin'....

Betsy Combier

School Therapists Want a Better Contract Deal. The UFT Wants Them to Give Up.

Union president Michael Mulgrew is pressing occupational and physical therapists to vote again on a deal they rejected — while some members demand new negotiations with city hall instead.

By Claudia Irizarry Aponte, Chalkbeat

  JUL 28, 2023, 5:00AM EDT

A United Federation of Teachers chapter representing school therapists stood alone among chapters in rejecting their union’s tentative contract agreement with Mayor Eric Adams earlier this month — and now say UFT leadership is pressuring them to accept the deal in a revote.

In voting down the contract, chapter members expected the next step would be for their bargaining unit — which also includes audiologists, nurses and supervisors — to negotiate with city labor officials for a collective bargaining agreement that addresses their specific concerns, as happened in their last contract. Instead, chapter leaders and members say, UFT President Michael Mulgrew is urging a new vote without further talks or changes. 

The 2,900 therapists and nurses are a small unit within the 120,000-member union, whose members include teachers, social workers and other city Department of Education employees. Three-quarters of the UFT membership approved the contract, the union announced earlier this month.

Within the unit, 59% of all members rejected the deal, which guarantees raises of 17.58% to 20.42% by 2026. Most of those dissenting votes came from occupational and physical therapists, who make up the majority of the unit’s members. Two-thirds of the therapists who returned ballots opposed the tentative agreement.

The independent American Arbitration Association conducted, tabulated and certified the contract vote.

Concerns about salary gaps between therapists and teachers are a major source of contention, according to chapter leaders and rank-and-file members who spoke with THE CITY. The gap is considerable: by January, a therapist with a master’s degree and 10 years of experience would earn $17,463 less annually than a teacher with the same credentials and experience, Chalkbeat reported, citing UFT documents. 

By rejecting the agreement, the unit voted to not receive raises, bonuses or other benefits that go into effect for teachers and paraprofessionals this summer, and to instead continue working under their expired contract.

Vote again?

But the unit also represents nurses, audiologists, and nurse and therapist supervisors who are eager to ratify the new contract, according to Mulgrew.

Numerous members are asking for a revote, he wrote in a signed July 21 letter to chapter leadership in which he detailed efforts to split the nurses, audiologists and supervisors into their own unit so that in the future they are no longer tied in with the therapists in contract votes.

“They are pushing hard to separate as soon as possible because they feel it is unfair that, although members of each of their chapters voted overwhelmingly in favor of ratifying the contract, they will not get the new contractual benefits because their particular contract failed to get a majority of the overall votes,” Mulgrew wrote.

“We are trying to get the city and DOE to come back to the bargaining table,” he asserted in the letter even as he highlighted demands from members for an immediate revote.

 That position puts him at odds with the therapists’ leadership: By a vote of 5-1 with one abstention last week, their executive board decided against a revote.

In a meeting with the therapists’ chapter on Wednesday afternoon, Mulgrew made repeated attempts to persuade members to give up on pursuing a stronger contract and to persuade them to join in a revote, claiming he had heard from 1,200 members who had demanded a new tally. Melissa Williams, the therapists’ chapter leader, asked Mulgrew for guidance on where and how the union’s constitution lays out rules for revotes.

“I’ve never had a chapter with this many people who are adamantly against the decision of their executive board,” Mulgrew said.

He added: “We have to make a decision. If we decide not to do a revote, fine. But everyone needs to understand the consequences of not revoting.”

Or bargain again?

Mulgrew also urged members to give up on trying to get a better deal. “The city isn’t interested in getting back to the bargaining table right now,” he said, noting that other legal maneuvers could potentially take years. “I can’t express this clear enough to all of you. We don’t have an avenue to get back to the bargaining table right now.”

Rank-and-file workers and union activists who spoke with THE CITY, however, said that union leadership should not entertain the prospect of a revote, but press on in trying to strike a better bargain with Adams.

Pursuing a revote of a certified election, Williams said, “calls into question the integrity of the entire process.

“I just feel bad for the people who took the time to vote,” she said in an interview with THE CITY. “I trusted that this vote had integrity, now I see that it’s wrong. It feels like a moral injury, to be honest.”

UFT spokesperson Alison Gendar said in a statement that “more than 1,000” chapter members “have asked — through emails and phone calls — for the opportunity to hold a revote.”

 ”The UFT leadership is working with the chapter to figure out next steps,” Gendar added.

Vocal dissent

This isn’t the first time that UFT occupational and physical therapists bucked the rest of the union in rejecting a tentative contract deal: The chapter also rejected a tentative agreement in 2018 over wage concerns. On that occasion, UFT leadership returned to the bargaining table and notched modest additional raises. 

A revote without fresh contract talks was never entertained as an option after the chapter rejected the agreement in 2018, three chapter members and two union activists told THE CITY.

One reason for the standoff now with Mulgrew, activists say, is that the union’s constitution does not lay out a procedure for renegotiating rejected contracts. 

“The chapter voted, and the chapter voted pretty much 2-to-1 against the contract, and to go to a revote sort of negates that process,” said chapter member and DOE physical therapist Chris Griffin, who noted she’s “not a huge ‘no’ advocate.” 

Discussion of a revote “undermines that process, which was done according to established rules,” she added.

Some therapists say they would like to see Mulgrew push harder to get the city back to the bargaining table.

“I believe he’s avoiding doing his job,” said a chapter member who asked to be identified only as “E” out of fear of retaliation from her bosses. “His job is to negotiate on our behalf, not to justify the city’s stance. So I feel like he’s using that to scare us into voting yes.”

Daniel Alicea, a teacher and UFT activist, told THE CITY that the union’s leadership should convene a constitutional convention that clearly lays out a renegotiation process for rejected contracts so that “things aren’t done arbitrarily and haphazardly.”

“If we acquiesce here, this can happen in local chapter elections, it can happen in our next general election — that if they’re not happy with the result, they will find some other means.”

Mulgrew MIA as Unity Tries to Disorganize OT/PT Bargaining Unit into Revoting ‘Yes’