A former counsellor with the Comox Valley School District is advocating on behalf of fellow SD 71 employees who claim to be victims of workplace bullying.
Scott Montgomery knows of at least 10 teachers and assistants who have been “humiliated and degraded” by their employer.
He would not name names.
“The people who have shared these (stories) with me are terrified,” the retired elementary school counsellor said. “They’re afraid they’re going to be faced with further discipline.
“Nobody’s opposed to the idea that employees sometimes need to be disciplined, but this is more than discipline. It’s nasty,” Montgomery added.
“I’m extremely concerned about this.”
Montgomery met with school board chair, Tom Weber, and superintendent Sherry Elwood last week to air his complaints, to no avail.
“I asked the question, ‘What is the response of the board to the concerns that I have raised regarding workplace bullying?’ The response was that the board is comfortable with what they have in place at the present time regarding workplace bullying, and that there would be no action.”
Montgomery is also “perplexed” by the reaction, or lack thereof, by local school trustees when he spoke to them, prior to his meeting with Weber and Elwood regarding bullying in the workplace.
Elwood notes the dilemma presented by people who come forward with third-hand conversations.
“We take them all seriously, and when we have the ability to investigate with concrete and specific information, we do,” said Elwood, noting policies and procedures are in place for employees who feel bullied to report concerns.
She also notes Bill 14 (Anti-Bullying Act) covers employees with workplace concerns. The CDTA, CUPE and ESSPA unions represent members who file bullying concerns.
“Sometimes in the complexities of an adult workplace, some folks have a hard time distinguishing between supervision and discipline,” Elwood said. “Even within those concerns, there are mechanisms that are about keeping employees safe, and we take that very seriously.”
Edina Johnston, another former SD71 employee, quit after being subject to “disrespect and horrid behaviour” by the school district.
“Something changed over the last five years, and I personally witnessed a caring and compassionate, green-around-the-gills principal turn into a tyrant between school years,” said Johnston, who was a senior custodian in the school district.
“I’ve also witnessed staff forced to quit, along with several principals and teachers who have had to take medical leave for stress-related illnesses in order to survive. My experiences with our school district have been traumatizing to say the least. No human being should be subject to tactics employed by this employer. Obviously the school district anti-bullying policy pertains only to students and not to staff, and it’s a shame that our school district does not think it important to practise what they teach.”
Elwood says Johnston would know that a board policy about workplace bullying and harassment has always been in place — even before Bill 14.
“There is language in both collective agreements (teachers and CUPE) that speaks to harassment and bullying in the workplace,” Elwood said. “There have always been mechanisms before the recent focus on student bullying.”
Along with a district-level policy within the collective agreement process, Elwood notes teachers and CUPE employees also have a grievance process mechanism.
“That has always been in place for them to bring those concerns forward. Their union representatives take those matters seriously, as does the senior staff of the district and certainly as does the board.”