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When school boards get expelled

Nova Scotia's Karen Casey just fired a whole school board — again

Most schools have unruly students to deal with; in Nova Scotia, it’s school board officials who are expelled for bad behaviour. On Monday, the province’s education minister, Karen Casey, fired all 12 elected members of the Strait Regional School Board, which oversees 25 schools in rural northeastern Nova Scotia. “This is a decision that I hoped I would not have to make,” Casey said, “but this board continues to struggle to maintain decorum.”

A difficult decision, but one she’s made before: there are eight elected school boards in Nova Scotia, and this is the second one that Casey has dismissed in two years. (In 2006, members of the Halifax Regional School Board met a similar fate.)

Why all the bickering? Former Strait school board chair Henry Van Berkel says it boils down to “personality clashes” among members, some of whom have known each other for years. Before dismissing the board, Casey had warned members several times to behave — even removing some of the board’s powers in February. Yet their antics continued.

At a recent meeting, vice-chair Mike Brown stormed out after repeatedly interrupting other members, uttering “this is bulls–t” on his way out the door. His explanation for the constant conflict? “A lot of people like to dish it out, but they don’t like to take it.” Soon after the board failed to discipline Brown, Van Berkel recommended that Casey get rid of the whole board.

Until October, when school board elections are held, both the Halifax and Strait boards will be overseen by government appointees. Casey, meanwhile, is considering a new law that would give her more power to deal directly with individual members. She’s hoping that the next time a school board goes wild, she won’t have to fire the whole lot.

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