Trustee Larry Killens commits to continue attending board meetings

Protesters gathered on Regent Street before the Aug. 28 Rainbow District School Board meeting. (Matt Durnan/Sudbury.com)

MANITOULIN—Following a raucous August 28 Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) meeting where banned Manitoulin trustee Larry Killens attempted to retake his seat at the board table, the trustee has vowed to continue to attend board meetings, and the strategic planning committee meetings of which he is a member.

“I am not going to speak out anymore, however, they kind of hit me with a baseball bat on that one, but I will be there and anything I see that is untoward I am going to get it out there,” he said. “What they are doing is illegal,” he alleged.

The trustee went on to say that for “the first time ever in my trustee term I speak on behalf of the board. I have never been so embarrassed, ashamed and depressed at the behaviour and lack of respect, integrity and inclusiveness displayed at the August 28 RDSB meeting towards those present. Our guests at the meeting who took the time and travelled to be there have an entitlement to be angered, upset and annoyed seeing their tax dollars apparently at work. My apology is extended to those educational stakeholders present but my shame is not limited to my colleagues, but to the body language and utterances I felt displayed by the chair of the board speaking, apparently welcoming everyone at the end of the meeting. I repeat and offer this display as proof we are a board in crisis.”

Mr. Killens said he was amazed at the lack of response by the Minister of Education to the actions of the RDSB. He noted that the board chair had admitted in a CBC interview that the board could only suspend him from a single meeting, but that the board was going ahead with the ban anyway.

“I don’t understand how this isn’t news,” he said of the revelation that the supposed sanction letters used as justification for the extra-legal suspension of an elected official did not support the motion’s claim that he had been sanctioned six times previously.

“It follows the motion is false and untrue, which lends substance to my allegation the entire motion is untrue and malicious gossip,” alleged Mr. Killens, a statement he included in a letter to the Ontario minister of Education wherein he cites an August 17 Expositor article ‘Alleged sanction letters reveal dated transgressions but no sanctions’ in which the letters cited in the motion banning Mr. Killens were reported. “Minister, why can you turn a blind eye, hide your head in the sand, participate in wilful blindness when I have fortunately had a dedicated reporter do his homework and prove the motion is untrue and yet it lives on.”

Mr. Killens concluded his letter to the minister with the plea “I ask you to look into this matter and bring some integrity back to government in your new role.”

The Expositor reached out to RDSB Chair Doreen Dewar for comment on the issue, but had not received a reply as of press time.

As for the August 28 RDSB meeting of the board, it grew heated as a dozen supporters of Trustee Killens showed up to indicate their displeasure with the board for barring of their representative from the remaining board meetings.

The other board members had barred Mr. Killens from attending future meetings of the board during a July 3 meeting when they passed a motion censuring the trustee and citing several alleged previous sanctions—sanctions that Mr. Killens disputes.

As reported in the Northern Life on Sudbury.com, the trustee’s supporters aimed their anger directly at the board.

“It’s a whole history with the board, whether it’s them banning parents who are a little too informed or banning Larry because he’s a little too vocal or is asking too many questions at meetings,” said Chantelle Gorham, who Northern Life reports has butted heads with the Rainbow Board in the past over an accommodation review in 2016 that threatened to close a number of RDSB schools.

“We’re here to support Larry, but also the parents, teachers and students that are affected by this board and their decisions. We know now why they are closing schools, because of things like director (Norm) Blaseg’s $60,000 raise, and looking at building a $7 million soccer dome, they’re sending superintendents overseas to recruit international students—it’s no wonder with where their money is going, it’s not toward schools, it’s toward pet projects.”

Mr. Killens arrived at the Ernie Checkeris board room at 5 pm, taking his seat at the board table. 

The Northern Life reports that “things remained civil as trustees passed motions to approve minutes of past meetings, swore in their new student trustee and discussed curriculum changes that have been passed down by the Ontario government.”

Although he was seated at the board table, Mr. Killens did not have the meeting package or agenda. Mr. Killens did raise his hand to vote in approval of a few motions, and opposed a few others, not speaking until a pair of agenda items with his name on them were brought up.

Those motions were approving leaves of absence from the special July 19 board meeting as well as the August 28 meeting.

When board chair Doreen Dewar read the motion to grant Mr. Killens a leave of absence, the room became agitated and led Chair Dewar to call a five-minute recess.

Mr. Killens raised his hand while the motion was being read, while speaking into his microphone that he had a question.

“Sorry, but we do not take questions at this time,” Chair Dewar responded.

“I didn’t ask for that motion,” continued Mr. Killens undaunted. “I wasn’t there, July 3, I was banned and now you’re asking me to be excused from the July 19 meeting?”

Despite his objections, the motion was passed and Chair Dewar moved to read the next motion that would grant Mr. Killens a leave of absence from the August 28 meeting. Mr. Killens then called for a point of order and challenged the chair.

“I will ask you not to interrupt the proceedings of this meeting,” said Chair Dewar. “This is a meeting in progress. I will ask you to refrain from interrupting. If you can not refrain, I will ask you to leave. We now have a motion on the floor.”

“How can you ask me to leave?” rejoined Mr. Killens. “Under what law?”

It was at that point that Chair Dewar called a five-minute recess and Mr. Killens’ supporters erupted. Audience members shouted out “shame” as the chair and other trustees left the table.

“I thank you for coming out tonight, it’s good to see you here, I love to see you here, we all do—you should be a role model however, we have a student trustee here and if you can’t be a role model for your community, then you should for our student trustee,” chided Chair Dewar.

The board returned from the recess and resumed the reading of the motion to grant Mr. Killens a leave of absence. 

“Madame chair, I’m here,” said Mr. Killens, who was once again in his chair at the table.

Disquiet in the audience led Chair Dewar to address the crowd. “This is not a meeting about Trustee Killens, this is a meeting about educating students,” she said.

Protesters gathered in the parking lot following the meeting to offer their support to Mr. Killens, who says he’ll be attending the rest of the board meetings until he’s told otherwise.

“I emailed them after I was barred and told them I would be attending tonight, and I wasn’t given any response,” said Mr. Killens. “Emotions were obviously high in there tonight. I just, I want them to tell me why I’ve been barred. I can’t get my head around it.”

Chair Dewar spoke to the media following the meeting.

“It will be 30 years on this board in the spring and I’ve absolutely never seen anything like this,” she said. “The issue of Larry Killens has been debated and eight of eight trustees voted in favour of having him barred from meetings until November 30.”

Following the meeting, Chair Dewar alleged that Mr. Killens was no more than a member of the public and he was welcome to attend, but not as a voting member of the board.

“He’s entitled to attend, his votes aren’t registered, but he has every right to be here, we do not accept questions from the public at these meetings,” said Chair Dewar. “He chose to sit at the table, I’m not going to try to move him.”

As for the motions to grant Mr. Killens a leave of absence, these motions will appear on the rest of the board’s meetings, so long as Mr. Killens remains barred.

“Trustee Killens is still being paid, this is our policy and we try our best to adhere to our policies,” Chair Dewar said.

The next board meeting will be September 25 at 5:15 pm.