June 17, 2019

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Trustee won't say if he'll obey ban

Babinsky suspended for harassment

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/9/2015 (1370 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

NEVER in Manitoba history has a school board used the Public Schools Act to bar a school trustee.

Of course, there haven't been many school trustees like Mike Babinsky, whom the Winnipeg School Division board has censured four times since he was elected, including two censures since the latest board took office in November.

"While boards have censured trustees in the past, this is the first time the suspension provision has been invoked," an aide to Education Minister James Allum said Tuesday.

The alleged harassment of a senior employee by an unnamed trustee had been one of the most incendiary findings in Prof. John Wiens' scathing review of governance problems within the province's largest school division.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/9/2015 (1370 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

NEVER in Manitoba history has a school board used the Public Schools Act to bar a school trustee.

Of course, there haven't been many school trustees like Mike Babinsky, whom the Winnipeg School Division board has censured four times since he was elected, including two censures since the latest board took office in November.

Mike Babinsky

Mike Babinsky

"While boards have censured trustees in the past, this is the first time the suspension provision has been invoked," an aide to Education Minister James Allum said Tuesday.

The alleged harassment of a senior employee by an unnamed trustee had been one of the most incendiary findings in Prof. John Wiens' scathing review of governance problems within the province's largest school division.

Trustees confirmed Monday night the trustee involved is Babinsky, and they took the unprecedented action of barring him from board or committee meetings from Oct. 5 to Nov. 2.

They could have barred him for three months, and they could have suspended him from any access to information and other activities.

Babinsky would not say Tuesday whether he would comply with the conditions or appeal the board's decision.

In an email, Babinsky said trustee Chris Broughton had told the board Monday night he has concerns about WSD's transportation department: "Babinsky raised issues within the transportation department, with the interest of students and the division in mind."

Broughton had urged Babinsky to act with conduct becoming a trustee. But that's all Babinsky was saying Tuesday.

Board chairman Mark Wasyliw would only say Tuesday that, "The actions of trustee Babinsky amounted to him being fixated on a particular employee and making repeated disparaging and disrespectful comments about this employee to the board, senior administration, to the employee directly and through mass emails he sent out.

"The behaviour spanned a number of years, and there were repeated incidents," Wasyliw said.

Wasyliw had identified the victim as a senior staff member and said the harassment was not sexual in nature.

Babinsky had sent out lengthy diatribes in mass emails, in which he alleged widespread problems within the transportation department. He tried to get police and justice officials to investigate how long kids were supposedly spending on school buses, or how long children were waiting for school buses in freezing conditions.

Trustees Monday night also ordered Babinsky to make a formal apology to the employee, to undertake respectful-workplace or anger-management training and to enter into mediation should the employee wish.

Wasyliw said trustees assume Babinsky would comply, but if not: "(We) will cross that bridge if it ever comes."

Vice-chairwoman Sherri Rollins told the board after more than two hours of secret deliberation Monday that an independent investigator had determined Babinsky had repeatedly intimidated and humiliated a staff member.

Rollins said the board sought legal counsel after an employee complained about ongoing harassment.

"It was the investigator's respectful conclusion that the complaint was valid. The repeated humiliation and intimidation were based in fact," she said.

The Public Schools Act allows boards to bar a member temporarily, but not to remove him or her from office.

Babinsky made no comment during the short public session, other than to indicate he would leave the room because of a conflict of interest in voting about discipline on himself.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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