York board tells ed­u­ca­tion di­rec­tor to re­sign: sources

One day af­ter damn­ing re­port, trustees meet and unan­i­mously agree Parap­pally must go


The day af­ter a scathing re­port de­tailed the dys­func­tion, “cul­ture of fear” and lack of lead­er­ship at the York Re­gion pub­lic school board, trustees went be­yond what was asked of them by the ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter and told em­bat­tled di­rec­tor J. Philip Parap­pally to step down, sources told the Star.

At a spe­cial board meet­ing Wed­nes­day night, trustees said they had al­ready met the first dead­line put for­ward in a let­ter from Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Mitzie Hunter out­lin­ing her 22 di­rec­tives, and were mak­ing progress on many oth­ers.

Board chair Lo­ralea Carruthers opened the meet­ing with strong words, and an apol­ogy.

“I’m so sorry, so very sorry that so many of you have been hurt so deeply and I’m sorry that our staff . . . have been hurt too. And I’m so sorry that our kids, in par­tic­u­lar, have been ex­posed to the worst in peo­ple in­stead of the best,” she said. “I am sorry, and my col­leagues are sorry. I apol­o­gize.

“What will hap­pen next is ac­tion, not empty words. And it won’t be ac­tion be­hind closed doors ei­ther,” said Carruthers. “So start­ing tonight I can say all of the trustees are on the same page, we are united and work­ing on a clean path for­ward,” she said, adding they will do the “right thing.”

That right thing ap­peared to be ask­ing for the dis­missal of Parap­pally, ac­cord­ing to sources. It was a move the chair wouldn’t con­firm pub­licly.

“We are go­ing to act on the min­is­ter’s di­rec­tives but we ob­vi­ously can’t com­ment on a per­son­nel mat­ter,” Carruthers said, adding any dis­cus­sion with the di­rec­tor would be in pri­vate ses­sion.

A mo­tion passed by trustees af­ter the pri­vate ses­sion only “ap­proved the mo­tion re­gard­ing a per­son­nel mat­ter” but didn’t of­fer more de­tails.

But a source close to the trustees said dur­ing the in-cam­era por­tion of the meet­ing on Wed­nes­day, trustees unan­i­mously agreed to call for Para­pally’s res­ig­na­tion and started the “labou­ri­ous and com­plex” process to part ways with him based on con­cerns around his per­for­mance, which were de­tailed through­out the en­tire re­port.

Parap­pally will have a week to re­spond. He was not avail­able af­ter the meet­ing for com­ment, but dur­ing the meet­ing “apol­o­gized for the hurt he had caused.”

Trustees also put for­ward a num­ber of mo­tions to for­mal­ize a ban on travel — af­ter be­ing crit­i­cized in the re­port for jet­ting over­seas with­out pub­lic ap­provals and, in many cases, no clear pur­pose — and also asked the di­rec­tor to es­tab­lish the po­si­tion of a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tor re­spon­si­ble for eq­uity, as well as move for­ward on ap­point­ing an in­tegrity com­mis­sioner.

They also en­cour­aged all em­ploy­ees to make use of the em­ployee as­sis­tance pro­gram, a re­quire­ment Hunter said should be im­ple­mented within 24 hours.

But ques­tions re­main on how the trustees will move for­ward, given that the re­port de­tailed a far-reach­ing ab­sence of “strong and eth­i­cal” lead­er­ship.

At the end of Jan­uary, Hunter ap­pointed a two-per­son re­view team to probe the board, af­ter con­cerns that in­ci­dents of racism and Is­lam­o­pho­bia were not prop­erly han­dled, in­ter­na­tional travel was get­ting out of hand, and the “de­te­ri­o­rat­ing re­la­tion­ships” be­tween trustees, staff and Parap­pally.

The re­view, re­leased Tues­day, painted a trou­bling pic­ture of a board in cri­sis, where trustees were un­aware of their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, failed to hold to ac­count then-trustee Nancy El­gie for re­fer­ring to a black par­ent us­ing the n-word, and were obliv­i­ous to pub­lic con­cerns about their travel or even why the re­view was or­dered. It said lead­ers, both elected and the di­rec­tor, were not liv­ing up to their du­ties.

Hunter has said if the board does not act quickly, she will ap­point an in­ves­ti­ga­tor, which puts the board closer to pro­vin­cial su­per­vi­sion.

Par­ents, how­ever, con­tinue to call for Parap­pally to re­sign, say­ing the board can’t move for­ward with him at the helm.

Parap­pally was given an un­heard-of 10-year con­tract un­der then chair Anna DeBar­tolo with­out any real per­for­mance re­view. Parap­pally was also guar­an­teed a job for life with the board af­ter the deal ex­pired, ac­cord­ing to a copy of his con­tract ob­tained by the Star last April.

Hunter has or­dered the board to rene­go­ti­ate the terms of his con­tract and com­plete an in­de­pen­dent job ap­praisal by the end of May.

Con­cerns had been raised about Parap­pally’s frac­tious re­la­tion­ship with staff and some trustees, his dis­re­spect­ful deal­ings with par­ents, and a “cul­ture of dis­trust” the re­view­ers said he cul­ti­vated. He is also said to have or­dered se­nior staff to spy on one an­other, and the board con­fis­cated lap­tops to find the source of emails crit­i­cal of him and how he was hired.

Many se­nior staff in­ter­viewed said they have no con­fi­dence in his lead­er­ship, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. In fact, some in­ter­vie­wees said Parap­pally’s hir­ing was “the cause of, and the be­gin­ning of, much of the dif­fi­culty the board is fac­ing.”

On Wed­nes­day at Queen’s Park, Hunter told the Star she ex­pects her di­rec­tives to be fol­lowed “and im­ple­mented in a timely man­ner. That is my ex­pec­ta­tion. I will be mon­i­tor­ing the board’s progress very closely.”

When asked about the di­rec­tor, she said “in the directions I pro­vided to the board, there are three ar­eas that are im­por­tant — that’s an im­me­di­ate 360 (thor­ough) re­view of the di­rec­tor’s per­for­mance by an out­side hu­man re­sources ex­pert, mak­ing sure the di­rec­tor’s con­tract aligns with other di­rec­tors of ed­u­ca­tion, and hav­ing a pol­icy in place for the re­cruit­ment and per­for­mance ap­praisal of the di­rec­tor.”

This is not the first time a di­rec­tor has come un­der fire. Donna Quan, the for­mer di­rec­tor of the Toronto pub­lic board, was also harshly crit­i­cized in a pro­vin­cial re­port two years ago. She landed a pro­vin­cial re­search gig with York Univer­sity in­stead of fin­ish­ing out her con­tract at the TDSB.

Sources have told the Star that Parap­pally had also been in talks with the prov­ince for a sim­i­lar exit strat­egy prior to the re­port’s re­lease, which fell through af­ter he made un­rea­son­able de­mands for a pay­out.

Parap­pally, who was hired in 2014, still has seven years on his con­tract. He earned $259,000 last year.

Par­ents and com­mu­nity groups lauded the re­port and Hunter’s re­sponse, but said the board must now step up.

“There are a lot of fam­i­lies that are hurt­ing,” said Gi­lary Massa, of the Na­tional Coun­cil of Cana­dian Mus­lims. “The re­port con­firms the ab­so­lute fail­ure of the board to ful­fil its own poli­cies of eq­uity and in­clu­sion, as well as broader is­sues con­cern­ing lead­er­ship and gov­er­nance. The find­ings are deeply trou­bling.”

“It’s es­pe­cially im­por­tant to note that cur­rent staff de­scribed work­ing in a cul­ture of fear and dis­trust which was fos­tered by the board’s di­rec­tor, J. Philip Parap­pally,” added Sh­er­nett Martin of the Vaughan African Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion.


Sources told the Star the York board was lean­ing to­ward dis­miss­ing J. Philip Parap­pally as ed­u­ca­tion di­rec­tor.

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