16th April 2024

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Hamilton public school board trustee told to remove social media post or face ban from private meetings

A Hamilton public school board trustee is facing an ultimatum — delete a November social media post about being under investigation for other social media posts in support of Palestinians or be barred from all private board and committee meetings.

“I am feeling disappointed in the board’s decision last night,” Sabreina Dahab, Ward 2 trustee for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB), told CBC Hamilton on Tuesday.

Dahab posted to X on Nov. 14, 2023, saying trustees launched an external investigation at the end of October into her social media posts.

“I am concerned that this investigation is an attempt to silence me for my vocal condemnation of Israeli apartheid and reprimand me for my posts about protests that were calling for the end to the siege of Gaza,” she wrote at the time.

That November post spurred its own code of conduct investigation.

At the end of Monday’s late-night school board meeting, trustees found Dahab breached the code of conduct’s rules on confidentiality and voted on the ultimatum.

Trustee Todd White was the only one who voted against giving Dahab the ultimatum. Trustee Graeme Noble was absent.

White told CBC Hamilton the code of conduct process is “broken.”

“It pits trustees against each other and more often than not serves as a popularity contest with a punitive intent rather than an authentic dispute resolution process,” he wrote in an email.

“I’m not interested in playing this game. Boards of trustees and their leaders should be able mitigate disputes long before the Code of Conduct process is even a consideration.”

Vice chair Paul Tut told CBC Hamilton the board isn’t trying to silence Dahab, but understands how people may come to that conclusion without having all the information.

“We want trustees to be able to speak their minds and share their views, but with that also comes upholding and respecting the processes and procedures and rules of the board, in particular, as it relates to confidential and sensitive information,” he said.

A man smiling.
Paul Tut is Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board’s vice chair. (Paul Tut/Facebook)

Dahab said she disagrees with Tut’s comments, pointing to how HWDSB was recently considering amendments to its Trustee Policy Manual which would’ve restricted the ability of trustees to communicate directly with members of the media.

The proposed amendments received some criticism, prompting local media outlets The Hamilton Spectator, CHML 900 and CHCH to send a joint letter to the board.

“We urge the board to reconsider these proposals in a way that recognizes and respects the Charter right of freedom of expression and the role of the free press in reporting on local government,” read the letter.

The board approved an amendment on Monday night without those restrictions in the end.

Dahab said she is “committed to standing up for what I believe is right” but is also “concerned” about how the ultimatum limits her ability to advocate for her constituents.

She said right now, she’s speaking with her lawyer and deciding her next steps.

“I believe I have been doing what I can …to advocate for the community and I will figure out ways to keep advocating,” she said.

“Any decision I make moving forward will be in the best interest of people I’m advocating for.”