Former Principal Takes Own Life Amid Lawsuit Alleging Bullying at TDSB Diversity Training

by EditorL

A classroom at a  Public School of  the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), (Nathan Denette/Pool via REUTERS)

By Matthew Horwood

A former principal of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has taken his own life following diversity training sessions in 2021 that led to him being accused of white supremacy and being bullied at his workplace.

“With sorrow, it is announced that Richard Bilkszto passed away suddenly last Thursday, July 13, 2023, at his home in Toronto. He was 60 years of age,” Mr. Bilkszto’s lawyer, Lisa Bildy, said on Twitter on July 20.

“He leaves his distraught mother, brother, nephews, niece and many other dear family and friends whose lives he touched over the years.”

Mr. Bilkszto, who worked for the TDSB for 24 years, had recently retired but continued to do contract work for the board. According to Ms. Bildy, Mr. Bilkszto experienced “an affront to that stellar reputation” in the spring of 2021 due to having been the subject of workplace bullying after a series of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training sessions coordinated by the school board, which caused him “severe mental stress.”

After his experience, Mr. Bilkszto began advocating to bring people together through “a more equality-focused, pro-human approach,” Ms. Bildy wrote.

She said he launched a civil lawsuit against the TDSB this spring and also recently criticized the board’s use of a lottery system for specialized programs within its schools, which he said  “removed any consideration of merit.”

“Ultimately, he was concerned with fairness and respect for all learners – a mission from which he thought public education was straying,” wrote Ms. Bildy.

Example of ‘Resistance’

According to his court filing with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Mr. Bilkszto said he attended a DEI course for TDSB administrators led by trainer Kike Ojo-Thompson, CEO of the KOJO institute, that he alleged was hostile, said an opinion piece by columnist Jamie Sarkonak published in the National Post on July 6.

During the session, Ms. Ojo-Thompson made a number of arguments including that Canada is a more racist place than the United States, that it is a “bastion of white supremacy and colonialism,” and that capitalism and the patriarchy are killing people.

KOJO did not respond to an Epoch Times request for comment by press time.

Mr. Bilszto, according to the National Post column, responded that claiming Canada is just as bad as the United States when it came to racism was “doing an incredible disservice to our learners,” and cited Canada’s public health care and more equal funding system for education as examples.

Ms. Ojo-Thompson, for her part, replied “We are here to talk about anti-black racism, but you in your whiteness think that you can tell me what’s really going on for black people?”

During the next session, Ms. Ojo-Thompson reportedly referred to Mr. Bilkszto’s comments an example of “resistance” that upholds white supremacy. She also said his reference to “facts” was an attempt to derail the conversation and discredit her words. Moreover, she encouraged everyone to push back when they see others being “accosted by white supremacy.”

‘Strong Advocate for Students’

Mr. Bilkszto subsequently went on sick leave for workplace harassment. The Toronto School Administrators’ Association called for an investigation into what happened, but no investigation occurred. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) awarded Mr. Bilkszto loss of earnings benefits between May 11 and July 1, 2021, for chronic mental stress.A later ruling by the WSIB found that Ms. Ojo-Thompson’s conduct was “abusive, egregious and vexatious, and rises to the level of workplace harassment and bullying,” in her treatment of the former principal.

The TDSB also seemed to side with Mr. Bilkszto, stating in its statement of claim that KOJO was negligent and in breach of contract by making Mr. Bilkszto feel harassed, humiliated, and defamed, said the National Post column.

While Mr. Bilkszto returned to work for the TDSB after six weeks of sick leave, he was not reinstated to his former position, and an additional contract for a principal term was revoked. Between the alleged defamation and breaches of his contract, he was seeking $785,000 in damages.

Ryan Bird, executive officer of government, public, and community relations at the TDSB, told The Epoch Times that “our hearts go out to Richard’s family and loved ones.”

“He was a strong advocate for students – particularly those in adult and alternative education – and worked tirelessly to create an environment that fostered student success for students of all ages,” Mr. Bird said.

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