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'It's essential that she resign': New West school board wants Beattie gone

But the board won't be conducting a third-party investigation into Dee Beattie's use of a fake Twitter account.
New Westminster school board chair Maya Russell addresses the media outside the SD40 offices on Tuesday afternoon.

NOTE: This story has been updated with a response from trustee Dee Beattie.

The New Westminster school board will not conduct a further investigation into the online activities of trustee Dee Beattie.

Beattie has taken a medical leave of absence from her position on school board following last week's revelations that she had used a fake Twitter account to troll parents and others — including former B.C. Teachers' Federation president Teri Mooring, teacher and COVID awareness advocate Jennifer Heighton, and former trustee Mary Lalji.

Board chair Maya Russell, in a media appearance Tuesday afternoon, said the board has been "deeply shaken" by Beattie's conduct.

"It's essential that she resign," Russell said. "The conduct was completely unacceptable."

Russell said the board has no power to force Beattie to step down, noting school boards are not given the power under the B.C. School Act to remove an elected school trustee. Beattie — whose public statement cited mental health and chronic pain issues — is entitled to a leave of absence under the School Act.

"We've taken the strongest possible step available to us, and that is to publicly ask her to resign immediately," Russell said.

'I am focusing on my health': Beattie responds

Beattie responded to the Record on Wednesday afternoon — the day after a board meeting at which numerous members of the public spoke out on the issue.

In an email, Beattie said she will "cooperate and participate in the board's investigation and the usual processes under its policies."

"As of yet, I have not been invited to meet with the board," she wrote.

"I am focusing on my health at this time, and require time and space before meeting with the board or making any decisions."

Parents call for third-party investigation

A crowd of about 25 people had gathered at the Tuesday night school board meeting.

Among them was Sarah Arboleda, the New West parent whose online sleuthing led to the discovery of Beattie's identity.

She told trustees she believes the board must launch a third-party investigation into what she sees as a "toxic culture" within the board, citing actions she said appeared to be designed to silence critics and limit public participation — such as cutting off students who spoke up at a board meeting last spring about sexual harassment at the high school, and making changes to policies around public question periods at board meetings.

"I know that most trustees on this board are good people looking to do good work on behalf of our children and our community," she said. "Let's ensure that they're able to do that."

James Plett acknowledged he had frequently disagreed with trustees over the past several months.

"And I think that's OK," he said. "We're not here to agree with each other; we're here to do what's best for the community, and we're here to listen to each other. What Beattie did was such a betrayal of that. Her cowardly, anonymous snipes against political opponents have no place in the public discourse."

Plett said Beattie's actions weren't those of a political party or of school board and that "she and she alone" should be held accountable for what she's done. But he said the board should conduct a "thorough third-party investigation" into the matter.

"We need to know how this happened, why it happened and what can be done to make sure something like this never happens again. Trust has been destroyed," he said.

SD40 board will focus on 'rebuilding trust': chair

Russell, however, said the board had already considered the possibility of an investigation and decided not to move forward with the idea.

"What was already brought to light by your family was so egregious, we immediately took the strongest possible action that's available to us," she told Plett. 

She said the board weighed what could be gained by an investigation and concluded there was no additional action it could take.

"While we understand the need to fully understand what happened and the implications, we don't feel that's the board's role," she said. "We're going to try to focus on the work of rebuilding the trust and doing our work."

DPAC, unions, residents speak out about trustee's conduct

Laura Kwong, chair of the New Westminster district parent advisory council, reiterated DPAC's call for Beattie to resign and voiced objections to Beattie being able to take a paid leave of absence.

"Taxpayer dollars should not be going to support someone who has behaved in such a despicable manner," she said.

Representatives from the school district's two unions —  New Westminster Teachers' Union president Kristie Oxley and CUPE Local 409 president Dave Bollen — also added their voices to the condemnation of Beattie's actions.

Other speakers included residents who had been targeted by Beattie's fake Twitter account.

David Brett told the board he and his wife had both been subjected to "Allan Whitterstone's" harassment.

"I think you need to show leadership by speaking out online against abuse, not just watching it go by," he said.

City councillor Daniel Fontaine, who noted he was speaking in his capacity as a private citizen and not as an elected official, told the board he was one of the people targeted by Beattie's fake Twitter persona. He said Beattie's online behaviour went well beyond the level of what he would consider to be "normal political discourse."

He backed the call for an independent investigation into the matter.

"I do believe it's important that we get to the bottom of this," he said.

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
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