You are on page 1of 3






FEBRUARY 20, 2017
On February 20, 2017 I submitted the investigation report setting out the evidence and
findings related to allegations that there is a toxic work environment within School District
#39 (“VSB” or the “District”). The investigation was commenced by the District in
accordance with its obligations under the Workers Compensation Act. The investigation
was not connected to the WorkSafe investigation initiated by the Minister of Education
although both investigations were based on allegations set out in a letter to the Minister
authored by Ms. Sherry Elwood, in her capacity as President of the British Columbia School
Superintendents Association (“BCSSA”).

Ms. Elwood had expressed concern that members of the BCSSA, who serve in senior
leadership positions within the District as Superintendent, Assistant Superintendents and
Directors of Instruction, have been “faced with a work environment which is unstable and
unpredictable for many months now.” Ms. Elwood wrote that the work environment has
created a “toxicity which fosters fear and a lack of sense of safety for these individuals and
noted that the expectations “expected of them are unmanageable”.

At the time the Elwood Letter was made public it was also public knowledge that several
members of the District’s senior management team including the Secretary Treasurer and
the Superintendent (“Senior Management Team”) had taken leaves of absence.

Many District employees, including members of the Senior Management Team, agreed to
participate in the investigation. Several representatives from various stakeholder groups
asked to be interviewed. In addition each of the former Trustees agreed to be interviewed. I
was satisfied that I was able to obtain evidence from a representative sample of individuals
who had direct knowledge of the work environment and who had relevant information
related to the allegations.

Over the course of the investigation a cohesive narrative developed describing the work
environment generally and the events of the last several months in particular. The
response of certain Trustees challenged that narrative.

After careful consideration of the evidence I find that the concerns regarding a toxic work
environment set out in the Elwood Letter are valid. I find that the conduct of the Board
breached the requirement to provide employees with an emotionally safe and respectful
work environment.

I note that there are a number of systemic factors that contributed to the development of a
toxic work environment at the VSB. These include:

• The partisan composition of the Board;
• The governance model adopted by the District;
• The lack of consistent role definition amongst Trustees

Goldner Law Corporation 2
VSB Investigation
February 2017
While systemic factors played a role in creating a negative work environment the conduct
of the Board and of individual Trusteed contributed to the creation of a toxic work
environment. Of particular significance was the actions taken by certain Trustees in
relation to the school closure process and the staff recommendations related to that
process. By September 2016 it was untenable for members of the Senior Management
Team to remain in the workplace.

I find that the evidence did not support the view expressed by certain Trustees that the
stress in the workplace was not attributable to the conduct of the Board, or to the actions of
certain Trustees related to the Closure Report and school closure process.

The evidence gathered throughout this investigation supports the claims that members of
this Board routinely engaged in conduct toward one another that was uncivil, disrespectful
and rude. Such conduct not only affected the ability of the Board to function but also
affected individuals who although not directly the target of the conduct experienced the
stress of a work environment marked by ambient bullying.

In addition to the ambient bullying there was credible evidence that members of the Senior
Management Team staff were subject to direct bullying and personal harassment. There
was evidence that staff competence and professional skills were undermined by this
conduct. This had an adverse impact on their ability to effectively work with the Board and
created a culture of fear in which staff felt vulnerable with regard to their job security.

Employees of the VSB are entitled to the support and respect of the Board when they are
engaged in the bona fide performance of their duties. I find the allegations that certain
Trustees “threw the staff under the bus” an apt descriptor of the Trustees’ conduct. I accept
the evidence that certain Trustees’ public attack of the work of the senior staff related to
the school closure process undermined and publically embarrassed and humiliated the
Superintendent and the Senior Management Team.

Submitted on February 20, 2017.

Roslyn Goldner

Goldner Law Corporation

Goldner Law Corporation 3
VSB Investigation
February 2017