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OCDSB trustees weigh in on hate and the board's dysfunction

Elevated level of abuse trustees experience thanks to greater political divisions is a deterrent for many looking to get involved with the school board, says trustee Donna Blackburn.

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) trustees are facing unprecedented levels of hate and abuse over the masking mandate, making for a dysfunctional and divided board, according to two trustees.

The new term for the OCDSB trustees is off to rough start after a special meeting to discuss a motion for a masking mandate. The meeting on Nov. 22, which came just a week after the boards inaugural meeting, was interrupted by hecklers in opposition to the motion several times, forcing the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) to clear the room and the board to reschedule the vote.

Put forward by newly-elected trustee Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, the motion eventually failed to pass with trustees evenly split for and against a mask mandate.

Though she is disappointed her motion was not carried, what followed for Kaplan-Myrth was far more disturbing.

"Not only could we not have a respectful conversation because we were inundated by people who were heckling and being extremely disrespectful," said Kaplan-Myrth on The Sam Laprade Show. "Then I started to receive really targeted, hateful antisemitic and misogynist messages both by phone, as well as by email."

The messages Kaplan-Myrth received included derogatory terms for Jewish people and hateful conspiracy surrounding the Jewish people, not to mention veiled and not so veiled death threats.

When she reached out to the school board, she was disappointed in their delayed response.

"It took about a week for there to be any kind of public statement sent out to students and parents, as well as just a public statement saying that the OCDSB will not tolerate any form of anti indigenous anti block Islamophobic or antisemitism."

Donna Blackburn, also speaking on The Sam Laprade Show, said she has also been the target of homophobia and racism during her four terms on the board. 

"I condemn all forms of hatred. As a lesbian who gave birth to and raised the black daughter, I have been the target of hate and I've been the target of death threats myself," said Blackburn.

Blackburn notes the elevated level of abuse trustees experience thanks to greater political divisions is a deterrent for many looking to get involved with the school board.

"One of the main reasons why some of my colleagues chose not to run in the last election is because of the vitriol, and because it just took too much of a toll on their on their health and their personal lives," Blackburn said. "'I'm serving my fourth term is is the highest turnover we've had."

The division is making its way into the board meetings as well, according to Blackburn. She says conversations have been uncivil and disrespectful with trustees texting each other during meetings.

"I've often said I so look forward to to running for reelection and sitting on a functional board," said Blackburn. "We are held to a different standard, I hope, a higher standard, as public officials who are in charge of our children's education."

"We had a disagreement on about how to proceed," added Blackburn. "There's nobody at that table, who doesn't care about kids, and to suggest otherwise, is not helpful."

Andrea Freedman, the president and chief executive officer (CEO), of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa told The Sam Laprade Show on Dec. 9 that it's unfortunate that Dr. Kaplan-Myrth is receiving such hateful comments as she has been doing a tremendous job keeping the residents of Ottawa safe. 

"You can disagree with her position on masks if you want ti, but comments shouldn't be misogynistic and based on her Jewish faith," she said. 

Lisa Levitan, a teacher in Ottawa, told The Sam Laprade Show on Dec. 12 that children as young as four-years-old are being attached, bullied and harassed because of their Jewish faith. 

"It's heartbreaking to say the least," she said. "It's absolutely awful. Antisemitism is the oldest form of hate and students, teachers and families are experiencing increase in hate and it can't be ignored."

Listen to the full interview with Lisa Levitan below:

Listen to the full interview with Andrea Freedman below:     


Listen to the full interview with Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth on The Sam Laprade Show below.

Listen to the full interview with Donna Blackburn on The Sam Laprade Show below.

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