Off-duty racism gets teacher fired

An Ontario arbitration board recently upheld the firing of a teacher who was known to hang out with racists and support white supremacist and anti-Semitic groups.

The Peel District School Board fired Paul Fromm, a former teacher at Applewood Heights Secondary School in Mississauga, in February 1997 after he ignored warnings from his employer that his off-duty misconduct could end up in termination.

“The Peel Board is correct when it argues that high standards of off-duty conduct apply to teachers and that where the off-duty conduct of a teacher is incompatible with these standards, discipline may be imposed for just cause,” stated the Ontario Labour Relations Board in a report released last month.

In a 2-1 ruling the board concluded, “We have found that notwithstanding the fact Mr. Fromm was put on notice, he continued to publicly consort with known racists, to publicly make racist comment and to publicly speak in favour of known racists.” Fromm’s actions put the school’s commitment to multi-culturalism into question and his conduct in the mind of the Peel Board breached the off-duty standards of conduct required of a teacher employed by it, the report said.

The ruling was upheld even though there was no proof that Fromm — a teacher for 23 years — expressed his private opinions in the classroom and there was no evidence of a direct impact on students at Applewood.

The board claimed a direct effect is not required to consider the reasonable and probable consequences of the racist comments of a teacher.

“It can be reasonably assumed that any student of colour or the Jewish faith who became aware of Mr. Fromm’s views or of his involvement in these off-duty events would have difficulty accepting Mr. Fromm as a role model, mentor or confidante.”

The Peel Board sent Fromm a letter in June 1993, warning him of his inappropriate conduct and indicated that termination would proceed if he continued to be publicly involved in activities contradicting the school board’s values of multi-culturalism and ethnocultural diversity. He ignored the warnings and as a result was transferred to adult-education classes at a different school where he still continued to publicly associate with hate groups. The evidence established against Fromm included several events, according to the board.

In December 1990, Fromm attended a Martyr’s Day Rally sponsored by the Heritage Front, a white supremacy group. A year later, he celebrated Adolph Hitler’s birthday, also organized by the Heritage Front. He traveled to the U.S. for the Revilo P. Oliver Memorial Symposium, put on by the National Alliance, another white supremacist organization. Oliver was an advocate for Aryan segregation and Fromm spoke publicly at the event with the former head of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke. He described Oliver during his speech as a “man to be admired,” and spoke of multiculturalism in Canada as “the most incredible nonsense...the most preposterous idea.”

Brian Woodland, manager of communication services for the Peel Board said the board’s decision was clearly based on what it felt were some inappropriate actions.

“The board has to take action and it did. I think this is really about what we believe not only as a school system but as a society.”

However, the case raises the question of what’s acceptable for teachers when they are off-duty and whether their private lives should be an issue in evaluating their ability to teach.

“No evidence was tendered by the employer to establish the impact of Mr. Fromm’s off-duty conduct on students, parents or the community at large,” said Mary Hart, the union nominee on the board with the dissenting opinion, in her report. “The Board of Education failed to present any evidence to establish the existence of a poisoned environment...there was no evidence… to establish any impact on the school environment related to Mr. Fromm’s attendance at the particular meetings relied on by the board in reaching its decision.”

For teachers, this means they must have no private life and no private opinions, said Douglas Christie, the lawyer who represented Fromm before the arbitration case.

“Not one iota of evidence indicated the slightest prejudice in his work or the workplace caused by anything he said anywhere. It’s an outrageous infringement on Mr. Fromm’s right to his opinion and he was in all reports an excellent teacher.”

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, the union that represented Fromm under its collective agreement, has made no decision yet for an appeal. Christie hopes the union will appeal and said if they don’t the Canadian Free Speech League will step in to assist in a judiciary review.

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