Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth



Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth
OCDSB Trustee, Zone 9


For many of you, mid-August is that moment when minds drift from summer back to school: A time to restock pencils and notebooks, replace outgrown shoes, backpacks and lunch boxes, prepare classrooms, regroup with social and professional networks.

Before we plunge into the next academic year, I want to pause and take stock of the school year that recently ended and my first term as your Ottawa-Carleton District School Board Trustee.

It was an honour to represent Capital and Alta Vista wards at the OCDSB, and it was delightful to meet some of you, speak with you, and to visit schools.

I’ll be frank though: 2022-23 was a doozy. It was a challenging year for many students, parents, educators and staff, as well as for those of us who advocate for you. We have seen an increase in dysregulation in classrooms, in vandalism and graffiti and in antisemitic, racist, homophobic and transphobic vitriol and hate-fueled protests. Boards of education in Ontario, including in Ottawa, have experienced unprecedented disruptions of meetings, a pattern that is deeply concerning across North America. The Ontario Human Rights Commission issued a special statement in June on this pattern:

“The Ontario Human Rights Code (Code) protects everyone from discrimination and harassment based on numerous grounds, including disability, gender identity and expression, race, and religion. In schools, following the Code means that every student has the right to a learning environment free from discrimination, harassment, or other expressions of hatred – an environment where everyone feels safe to learn, thrive, and be themselves . . . The Council of Directors of Education has also noted that in recent months, administrators who have supported the rights and freedoms of 2SLGBTQIA+ people have been targeted during public board meetings. These incidents are deeply concerning and harmful and underscore the systemic issues and gaps within Ontario’s publicly funded education system.”

The OCDSB nevertheless succeeded in getting core work done and passed important motions. We developed and approved the 2023-2027 strategic plan, with a focus on well-being, learning and social as well as environmental responsibility (pub-ocdsb.escribemeetings.com/filestream.ashx?DocumentId=18208). We also hired a Jewish Equity Coach, passed a motion for a board-wide composting program and stood by our 2021 decision to end the School Resource Officer program and keep police out of schools.

We also passed the OCDSB budget with a commitment to increase the number of Educational Assistants and support for the Summer Learning Program for students with ASD and developmental disabilities. The Rainbow Youth Forum and the Black Youth Forum were wonderful events in the spring. We updated bylaws about who can speak at our meetings, limiting that role to those who live or study in the area and prohibiting any speech that foments hate.

What work is ahead of us? I commit to continue to hold the OCDSB accountable. We need an operational plan to address significant socioeconomic and racial disparities in who thrives and who struggles in our schools. Youth mental health and staff burnout are pressing issues. I will advocate for us to collaborate with community-based providers and mental-health agencies to support our students and employees. Special education is grossly underfunded and under-resourced across the province. OCDSB agreed to write a letter to the Minister of Education to advocate for additional funding for Educational Assistants, as we cannot be forced to choose between special education and other programs. I will also continue to advocate for improved ventilation and monitoring of air quality in classrooms. We can expect another difficult RSV-influenza-COVID triad this fall and winter, and with climate change we need to address the effects of smog next spring and summer.

Finally, in response to increased harassment and intimidation of 2SLGBTQ+ students, families and staff, we need to create safe zones around schools, similar to the federal legislation that was introduced to create safe zones around hospitals and clinics in 2021. I have written an open letter to Canadians, appealing to all levels of government to prevent protests in the vicinity of schools that target or intimidate students and staff on the basis of their gender identity, sexuality, race, religion or other protected categories. (www.change.org/p/safe-zones-for-canadian-schools). I have proposed that the OCDSB write a similar letter to the premier to advocate for safe zones.

What can you do to participate constructively in making this a successful year? Speak with your children about their concerns and educational needs. Reach out to teachers, your school principal, superintendent and me as your trustee to discuss specific issues, as well as to your city councillor and MPP to discuss systemic issues. Community members may attend OCDSB meetings and its committee meetings as well as parent council at each school.

Given what is happening around the world today, I strongly encourage you to support grassroots social justice activism and local, national and international organizations that support 2SLGBTQ+ people. None of this work is easy, but all of it is important.

Please take care of yourselves and each other.

March 8, 2023

Trustee update

Before sharing an update on Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) business, I acknowledge that I am working and living on unceded Algonquin territory of the Anishinabe Nation.

As a neighbour, parent and family physician, my heart goes out to the family and friends of the Grade 11 student at Glebe Collegiate who died this semester. There are no words to convey how devastating that loss is. The community mourns his death.

If adolescents or young adults you know are struggling, please reach out. Youth Services Bureau Ottawa has a 24/7 crisis line and offers drop-in counselling: 613-260-2360 or 1-877-377-7775. Kidsgrief.ca is a website that provides resources for parents to speak to their children about death. Many of you do not have a family physician or funds for private counselling; publicly funded mental health services for children and youth are available, through self-referral, at 1call1click.ca

My work as a new trustee at the OCDSB began last November. The first two months were taken up with orientation sessions on our roles and responsibilities as trustees, the Education Act, overviews of educational programs and finances.

As your trustee, I got right down to work on the issues that I promised to address. Here is a highlight of issues to date, and a preview of what is on the horizon.

At an emergency meeting of the board in November, I moved to temporarily reinstate masks in our classrooms to ensure the health and safety of students and staff, in response to the triple threat of COVID-19, influenza and RSV. Unfortunately, in the weeks prior to the meeting, organized anti-mask and anti-vaccine protesters targeted our board, bombarding us with emails espousing disinformation about the efficacy of masks. As you may be aware, the OCDSB boardroom filled with disruptive protesters on the day of our meeting. The vote on our mask motion resulted in a tie and therefore did not pass. That process was followed by harassment, death threats and anti-Semitic hate. The death threats have targeted me as a physician and as a trustee, daily, since November. The Ottawa Police hate crimes unit is involved.

Anti-Semitism, racism, bigotry and misogyny are sadly on the rise across Canada and around the world. OCDSB schools have seen a sharp increase in anti-Semitism in the last few years. Students have reported horrific incidents, most recently at Sir Robert Borden High School where two students were charged with acts of hate. Our existing staff and resources to support Jewish students and staff were deemed to be inadequate. Fast forward to January 17: I moved for the OCDSB to hire a Jewish Equity Coach. More than 1,000 Jewish community members, representatives of Jewish organizations and Jewish leaders from across the political spectrum came together to consider the motion. After thoughtful discussion, the OCDSB expressed unanimous support.

Each year, the OCDSB has an opportunity to submit questions to OPSBA (Ontario Public School Boards’ Association) and some are then forwarded to the Ministry of Education. I asked OCDSB to ask the following question, on behalf of the families and educators: What is going to be done to address the issue of insufficient funds and resources for students with disabilities, neurodiversity and other special education needs? With inadequate funding for educational assistants (EAs) and other supports, students with disabilities are struggling and, in some cases, excluded from learning. That is an equity issue. Also, for students in classrooms with executive dysregulation, there is also a safety issue; an increasing number of students and staff are learning/working in environments in which physical violence is a daily occurrence. Unfortunately, the minister of education only accepted a few questions in advance of the annual symposium, and he did not respond to the question I posed. As I sit on the OCDSB Special Education Advisory Committee as well as the Advisory Committee on Equity, I will continue to raise these issues.

The OCDSB is revising its field trip policy to align it with the work that is being done on equity, emphasizing the importance of removing financial barriers to student participation in field trip activities. This review will come back to the board for further discussion in March.

The OCDSB is also currently engaging in community consultations to prepare its strategic plan for 2023-2027. You are invited to participate in the  strategic planning process, to give your input on what matters most to support student learning and well-being. The OCDSB website at OCDSB.ca has information on how to join individual or small group conversations and provide feedback.

I welcome families to reach out if you have questions or concerns that require my attention or support.

Take care,

Nili Kaplan-Myrth

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