For the past two years, and in particular the last couple of weeks, education reporter Heidi Ulrichsen has been following the somewhat strange case of Anita and Dylan Gibson.
The Gibsons are a Sudbury couple, both of whom are running to become trustees with the Rainbow District School Board — Anita against incumbent Tyler Campbell in Area 2, and Dylan in Area 5 against newcomer Jessica Joy and longtime Rainbow Board chair Doreen Dewar.
The couple also happens to be under a no-trespass order issued by director of education Norm Blaseg in 2012. The order bans the Gibsons from the board office and its high schools. Notice the couple was not banned from Rainbow’s elementary schools, one of which the Gibson’s children attend.
If one or both of them prevail in the Oct. 27 election, the no-trespass order, if not rescinded, means they couldn’t physically take part in any board meetings.
This fact alone makes it one of the most interesting stories to emerge in this election season.
The couple’s clash with the board began in 2010 when Rainbow was conducting an accommodation review of its schools, deciding which to keep open and which to close. The Gibsons’ children attended Long Lake Public at the time, one of the schools slated for closure, and were among a group of parents who were less than impressed with the process.
Unlike many parents who seethed in silence, the Gibsons were quite vocal about their discontent. They made numerous presentations to the board about their concerns and, angered by what they felt was the board’s lack of transparency, began showing up to board meetings with a video camera to record the proceedings.
This did not sit well with some members of the board of trustees. In 2012, after what the Gibsons had what they considered an innocuous post-board meeting conversation with trustee Campbell, Rainbow banned the couple from attending any more meetings, effectively shutting down their campaign.
NorthernLife.ca was at most meetings the Gibsons attended. Despite their presentations, which were OK’d by the board, and their videotaping, the couple was not disruptive, just present.
Why the couple was banned remains a mystery. The board maintains privacy rules prevent it from revealing why the order was issued.
Fair enough, but do the Gibsons not have a right to know?
They say the board has never explained the justification for the ban, and a Freedom of Information request filed by the couple failed to shed any light.
The Gibsons are not without their supporters, both among the public and on the board. Trustees Larry Killens and Robert Kirwan have both gone to bat for them.
Last week, Kirwan attempted to introduce a motion to rescind the order, but Dewar immediately shut down discussion and cleared the room. Killens himself was asked to leave for apparently refusing to bow to the authority of the chair.
Strictly speaking, Dewar was justified in sending the board into an in camera — or closed door — session.
The rules for school boards are clear: Any discussion of a legal, property or personnel matter, and any discussion concerning a student and his or her parent or guardian, must be discussed in private.
Looking at the situation more generally though, Rainbow appears to be taking an unusual interest in marginalizing this couple. Why?
Blaseg hinted at a possible reason last week when he told NorthernLife.ca that no-trespass orders are issued when the safety or well-being of students, staff or the board is in question. He might have simply been explaining the rationale behind no-trespass orders, but from his statement someone could easily infer the couple poses some kind of threat.
And yet, the Gibsons are not charged with any crime. Something is not adding up here.
At the very least, the Rainbow District School Board owes the Gibsons an explanation. If they are a threat, go to the police. If they aren’t, stop treating them as if they were, rescind the ban and move on.
As it stands now, the board’s actions leave us with a bad taste. They also support the Gibsons’ original complaint that, under the Rainbow, transparency is an issue.