On May 6, Lighthouse Now published an article written by Brittany Wentzell and edited by Charles Mandel and Ed Halverson of CKBW, entitled “Bayview principal bullied and tracked female colleague”. The article contained details from a report issued after an investigation into a human resources (HR) complaint from a staff member at South Shore Regional Centre for Education (SSRCE). The report was created by the Halifax law firm of McInnes Cooper after an investigation into the complaint. Issued in January, the report was intended to remain confidential, but apparently details were provided to Lighthouse Now.
I and many others have some grave reservations about this article and the way the information in it was presented, as well as how public discussion is being managed. Below are several points I think are worth bringing up.
1. The headline
Let’s start with “Bayview principal bullied and tracked female colleague”. Why refer to Rebecca Smart as a “female colleague”? Why not as a “colleague”? Because our eye is supposed to be drawn to the gender difference, even though it’s not actually relevant to this story. Note that SSRCE director Paul Ash is quoted in the article as saying that none of the complaints made against Mr Eason were of a sexual nature. Gender or sexual harassment was not an issue here, despite the very strong suggestion that it was.
2. The numbers
The article claims that Smart is one of ‘several’ women to have filed complaints against Eason. Yet it only refers to complaints from ‘three female colleagues’–again with the gender–and details only two of those complaints. Of those two, only one person is named. So, we’ve gone from several to three to two to one. The anonymous woman’s allegations (not charges, not accusations, but allegations) apparently have nothing to do with the complaint Smart filed against Eason.
So why include allegations from an anonymous source concerning a separate issue? Why accord her anonymous status at all? By way of contrast, I was told by a CBC reporter last year CBC’s policy states that sources will be granted anonymity only if it’s a matter of life and death.
Why also mention a complaint from a student’s parents in the same article?
What was this article actually trying to accomplish?
3. The spin
Lighthouse Now’s defense against accusations of bias and inaccuracy has been that they printed only verifiable facts that can be backed up by paper records. While I have no doubt this is true, anyone with a rudimentary grasp of logic–or storytelling–understands that facts without context can be used to spin a story in any direction at all. Hitler was a decent water-colour artist. Donald Trump is a grandpa who likes to play golf in Florida. See? I can write facts too.
4. The one-sidedness
Speaking of context, Lighthouse Now defended their lack of coverage of Eason’s side of the story by saying they’d tried and failed to get him to comment. In the Facebook comments section, staff claimed that Eason hadn’t even bothered to tell them his silence was due to HR issues. Yet in the article, director Paul Ash is quoted as saying that he had instructed principals not to discuss the matter because it’s a human resources issue. So, Lighthouse staff knew very well the reason Eason wasn’t commenting.
5. The conflicts of interest
This post originally contained mention of potential conflicts of interest with Lighthouse Now staff, specifically two businesses that may have been co-owned with a relative of one of the subjects of this article. It has since been demonstrated to me that they are either volunteer endeavours or no longer active, so reference to them has been removed.
6. The comments. Dear God, the comments.
In my opinion, Lighthouse Now have done an abysmal job of managing public discussion of this issue on their Facebook page. Staff have deleted critical comments and banned those commenters from the page altogether, meaning they can’t participate in public dialogue on this or any other issue in the digital version of the village square. They claim this is because the comments violated their standards of etiquette. I’ve seen a number of these deleted comments–I have screenshots–and unless ‘etiquette’ means ‘don’t disagree with us,’ they’re wrong.
Also, staff are accusing many of these commenters of bullying. That’s right: the newspaper is reacting to comments on their article about bullying and harassment with accusations of bullying and harassment. Some people were deleted and banned just for asking who was doing the deleting and banning. It certainly gives the impression that the newspaper is trying to shape public discourse about Lamar Eason. (In case you don’t think that popular opinion can be swayed by the prevalence of one type of comment over another, just ask yourself: who is in the White House right now, and what role did Facebook comments play in getting him there?)
The gender thing is snowballing when it should have melted already. Halifax Examiner editor Tim Bousquet–who just won PEN Canada’s Ken Filkow Award, which as former chair of PEN’s Canadian Issues Committee I used to help administer–took the Lighthouse Now article at face value and declared, in his Morning File from May 6, that ‘it appears Eason flat-out lied’ in his January interview with Stephen Kimber. In that interview, Eason said that ‘gender issues’ were not the reason for his bizarre, secretive suspension by then-director Scott Milner. I am guessing Bousquet leapt to the conclusion that Eason’s suspension was in fact gender-related because the complaint it was based on was from a woman.
This just in: just because a woman makes a complaint against a man doesn’t mean the complaint is gender-related. Why would Bousquet think that? Oh, right, because the article danced all around it without actually saying it.
CKBW editor Ed Halverson then posted a link to the Bousquet piece on Facebook as if it was further evidence of journalistic excellence, when really all Bousquet was doing was echoing and amplifying the points made in the original article. Great work, team.
8. The utter lack of relevance
In any community, newspapers play a vital role reporting on crimes, court decisions, and the like. This is partly so people can see justice being done, and partly so they can stay current. But court proceedings and police blotters are public issues that affect everyone’s safety and well-being. The investigation into Smart’s complaint against Eason was a confidential human resources issue, so it wasn’t a public matter. The investigation was concluded in January, so it wasn’t news. We can easily infer that it is not a matter of public safety, since after it concluded, and the results were made known to all parties, Eason remained in his job.
Let me repeat that: Eason remained in his job.
Eason is a grade-school principal who works with children all day, every day, as well as with many women colleagues and parents. As annoyed as I’ve been with both the Nova Scotia Department of Education and the SSRCE over this issue, one thing I would never for a moment accuse either group of is indifference to the well-being of their charges. If there were even the slightest pretext to remove Eason, he would have been gone months ago. Therefore, it’s obvious both the Department and the SSRCE consider Eason to be absolutely, completely, one hundred percent fit to continue in his role as principal at Bayview Community School.
If anyone seriously wants to make the claim that either the Department or the SSRCE would keep a person in such an important role if they posed a risk to anyone, colleague or student, then… I don’t even know what to say to that.
9. The detractors
On Facebook, the place where decency and rational thought go to die, the torches-and-pitchforks crowd are vocal in their belief that anyone who defended Lamar Eason during his nearly month-long suspension in November and December of 2018 should immediately apologize to Ms. Smart and retract their support of Eason. I am one of those parents, and here’s why I won’t be apologizing to anyone:
- The decision to suspend Eason from his role as principal without any notice or discussion was a huge insult to Mr Eason and the parents of Bayview Community School, and deserved to be called out in public. Loudly. It affected our kids in many negative ways, and you absolutely do not do things that affect a child’s education without bringing it up with the parents first.
- Even after said loud public outcry, Scott Milner issued no communication to us parents until he was essentially shamed into doing so by another administrator, who, in violation of Milner’s ban on communication, sent out an email explaining that Eason was in no way a danger to anyone–students or colleagues–despite what his sudden disappearance from the office would suggest. This, too, was worthy of making a public fuss about, so we did. Milner then apologized for not telling us anything, though he never apologized for trying to sweep Eason himself under the rug. Shortly after that, Milner had a new job.
- The parents also took action because after we began investigating the Eason situation, we learned that there was a vast amount of unhappiness at SSRCE. Staff were literally begging us not to give up in our quest for clarity and transparency. So, we didn’t. We made our concerns about SSRCE leadership known to the Department and the general public. The concerns were looked into, and action was taken as a result.
- Along the way, we discovered another huge issue that needed discussion: thanks to the abolition of school boards in Nova Scotia, a highly controversial move by the Liberal government under Premier Stephen McNeil, there was a major lack of accountability and transparency at administrative levels. We were witnessing the effects of that firsthand. This is going to affect kids and families across the province, and along with many other dedicated parents in Nova Scotia, we are helping bring it to the fore.
So what conclusions do I draw from all this? I conclude, based on the evidence, that there are people who want us to believe Lamar Eason is a very, very bad person who everyone should be afraid of, especially women.
And yet there is absolutely no evidence to suggest this. Months after a thorough investigation, Lamar Eason remains in his role as principal of Bayview Community School, where my daughter is a student. In fact, right now, as I type this at 6:30 am, he’s probably already in the office, sending emails before track practice, which he helps conduct before his regular workday starts.
Why is Lamar Eason being treated this way?
Why is Lighthouse Now deleting comments in support of him but leaving those calling for his head?
Why did they produce this article in the first place?
These are things I and many others would like to know.