Community members have raised concerns about the social media activity of Sudbury Catholic District School Board trustee Stefano Presenza.
This social media activity includes comments and reactions by Presenza and others to posts on his personal Facebook page, as well as comments and reactions by Presenza on other people’s Facebook pages.
Presenza has since scrubbed his Facebook presence, but prior to that, Sudbury.com had taken numerous screenshots detailing the topics Presenza was liking and commenting on.
He commented and reacted to jokes and critical comments on another person's Facebook page regarding trans women in athletics, youth and gender reassignment surgery and drag shows, many of which would be considered bigoted or offensive. Other topics - which made it onto his own Facebook page - include anti-Semitic material and conspiracy theories, such as the 15-minute consipiracy theory.
Presenza, who is also local magician, was elected as trustee for the Sudbury Catholic board last fall for the first time, representing Zone 4 (Wards 7 and 8 in Greater Sudbury, as well as the municipalities of St. Charles and Markstay-Warren).
Late last week, Presenza appeared to deactivate his personal Facebook page.
We reached out to Presenza several times by phone, email and social media this month in an attempt to interview him about his social media activity, but an interview was not granted.
Sudbury.com also reached out to Sudbury Catholic District School Board chair Michael Bellmore, who said he would investigate the issue.
Late last week, Bellmore issued the following brief emailed statement on behalf of the Sudbury Catholic board. “The board of trustees has carefully reviewed this matter and has taken appropriate action.”
Bellmore did not elaborate when Sudbury.com asked what action had been taken by the board.
Trustees with the Sudbury Catholic board are governed by several policies, including the trustee communication policy.
A section in that policy that deals with social media says that trustee posts, tweets, and comments should reflect the Vision, Mission, and Values of the Board.
(The board’s values are “Modelling Jesus in the world through faith, respect, community, innovation and learning.”)
The trustee communication policy also said that trustees should “monitor personal sites to ensure accuracy of posts,” and that “trustee posts, tweets, and comments should never reflect negatively upon the Sudbury Catholic District School Board, its schools, its students, its staff, or fellow trustees.”
It goes on to say that “trustee posts fall into the public domain and it is not realistic for a member of the public to distinguish between a trustee’s post as a trustee from a trustee’s post as someone else (a parent for example). Trustees should be mindful of this dynamic when using social media platforms.”
The Sudbury Catholic District School Board also has a Code of Conduct that applies to members of Sudbury Catholic “school communities.”
All members of the Sudbury Catholic school communities must “respect and treat others fairly, regardless of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability.”
It also deals with other topics, including not engaging in “bullying behaviour” or “hate propaganda and other forms of behaviour motivated by hate or bias.”
Laur O’Gorman, co-chair of Sudbury Pride, said they were alerted to Presenza’s social media activity by a member of the queer community.
“So it's hard to really point to specific things, because he doesn't necessarily post things,” they said (O’Gorman uses they/them pronouns). “But what he does is he likes and comments on things. And so he'll like them, or put a laughing emoji or something like that.”
O’Gorman said they see this type of activity as bullying behaviour.
If you are part of a group, and other people are bullying somebody, and you don’t do anything, “then you are also participating in the bullying,” they said.
But “he isn't just a bystander, he isn't just standing by and watching this happen,” O’Gorman added. “He is actively promoting it by liking and commenting on these posts. He is actively encouraging it.”
A trustee engaging in this type of social media activity “can be incredibly harmful,” O’Gorman said, adding that it could impact the atmosphere in the board’s schools, if students see this kind of online behaviour.
“The board needs to step in and say we won't tolerate this kind of hatred in our schools,” they said.
The Pride co-chair said there’s been a push from the far right to promote people sympathetic to their ideology for election to school board trustee positions.
They said this is partly to align with American movements to put restrictions on trans athletes or protecting which bathrooms people are using in schools.
“We know that the rates of substance misuse, the rates of depression, and the rates of suicide ideation for trans youth is very high,” O’Gorman said.
“But we also know that when those trans youth are supported by their parents, by their doctor, and by their schools, then the rates of depression, substance use and suicide ideation go back down to exactly the same as their peers, as their cisgender heterosexual peers.
“Schools are one of the places where we need to be accepting of trans people. If we have anti-trans folk going into school board trustee positions that will impact children's lives, it'll raise the rates of depression, suicide attempts, suicide ideation, and substance use and misuse.
“Research has shown this very clearly over and over again, to like, it will save children's lives to not have this happening in their school board.”
Heidi Ulrichsen is Sudbury.com’s associate content editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.