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Bilkszto’s Suicide:
inquiry or whitewash?

TORONTO – Two weeks after the passing of Richard Bilkszto, former principal, most recently unretired to work on contract, his employer, (the Toronto District School Board -TDSB) succumbed to public pressure and launched an “investigation into the circumstances” of the suicide. Their statement of July 27, 2023, has all the makings of a pro-forma public relations exercise. Fourteen days after Mr. Bilkszto’s demise finally acknowledged his passing was “tragic”.

The statement on TDSB’s website geminates seeds of insincerity from the outset. It leaves the impression that the exercise is little more than an attempt to exculpate staff and Board and to extract everyone from liability and public condemnation.

The TDSB retained “King International Advisory Group (KIAG), an experienced and well-respected investigative firm with multi-disciplinary disciplinary expertise in conducting thorough investigations”.

One guesses that the TDSB views the WSIB, in its investigation of claims for mental health problems and distress brought on by the verbal assaults administered by the KOJO Institute on TDSB’s behalf, must have been less thorough. In my experience, that would be an exceptional case.

The WSIB decided for Mr. Bilkszto. As per our coverage last week, its report described KOJO’s behaviour, as “[…] abusive, egregious and vexatious [… and constituted …] workplace harassment and bullying.”

KIAG’s website does not reveal its expertise in investigating suicides, however, a Toronto Star article, dated July 27 and referencing unnamed professionals affirmed that, “Experts say suicide is rarely caused by a single circumstance or event, and there are usually many contributing factors that have developed over a period of time.” The KOJO Institute, its staff and the TDSB must have heaved a sigh of relief.

The same Toronto Star article gave Kike Ojo-Thompson (KOJO’s founder) an opportunity to express herself on the WSIB report. She responded, “[…] the claims about the sessions are false, adding: ‘It is puzzling that a government agency with adjudicating authority would not consult all named parties to a dispute.’

Even if true, it seems that several of the 200 attendees had recorded the seminars. At least twelve (12) came forward to corroborate Mr. Bilkszto’s rendition of the alleged bullying.

Nonetheless, TDSB insists that their “intention is for this investigation to be conducted in a professional, sensitive and respectful manner”. Members of the public can be forgiven for their skepticism.

As of May17, the Ontario Teachers’ Elementary Union claimed 77% of its members were victims of student (under the age of 14) violence. Their secondary Teachers operate in an environment of daily physical aggression, stabbings, sexual molestation and shootings. School principals and vice-principals are on everyone’s “hit list”. The Principals’ Union has called for an inquiry. So Has SOS TSDB, a group concerned with the future of the TDSB that started the petition calling for the inquiry.

Which problems are Director Russell-Rawlins and her Board hoping to solve with this investigation? The Board’s response is reflective of one who is “hunkering down” and hoping everything will blow away.

The statement affirms that, ”Regular equity training sessions for all staff support student achievement and well-being and are an important aspect of the Board’s approved multi-year strategic priorities.” Really? They do not provide evidence of a positive cause and effect relationship.

Their Statement goes on to say: “Effective learning takes place in a supportive environment that fosters honest dialogue and is based on respect and learning.” (emphasis added) Should Mr. Bilkszto have known better?

It smacks of a not-so-subtle effort to ‘guide’ KIAG to a conclusion that justifies KOJO’s [fatal] aggressiveness towards Mr. Bilkszto; especially since the TDSB feels it necessary to emphasize that: [its]” Employee and Family Assistance Program remains available at any time for staff in need”.

Is the implication that Mr. Bilkszto should have recognized his need and acted. How Crass! Maybe Russell-Rawlins should resign.

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