Leola Pon of the Toronto District School Board shares the board's post-pandemic transition plan
The Toronto District School Board’s emphasis on community engagement was illustrated by the transition to a new school environment after the disruption caused by COVID-19. Leola Pon, TDSB’s general counsel and executive officer for legal services and governance, told Canadian Lawyer that the legal department helped to ensure a smooth return to all schools in the district.
“The vast majority of our students are coming back into our schools, and including our staff as well, [and we have to] make sure that transition goes well. Of course, health and safety are of primary importance, especially with new variants that come along. It’s to ensure that we maintain our level of disinfection and cleaning, to ensure that we have a very safe place for our students and staff,” Pon said, during the 2021 Canadian Lawyer General Counsel Roundtable. Although pandemic-related planning is “unknown territory” for many members of the legal department, Pon was optimistic about the transition because of the work that had been done behind the scenes, as well as the cooperation and resilience of all students and parents.
In connection with the Ministry of Education’s announcement on mandatory vaccination disclosure, the school board formulated a vaccination policy. The legal department prepared a consistent protocol to deal with unvaccinated members of the community, Pon said.
Another priority for TDSB’s legal team is promoting diversity and inclusion. A key point of this strategy is ensuring that the law firms selected by the board understand its approach to equity and are actively addressing diversity issues, such as those in workforce composition.
“I will be taking another look at continuing our addition of equity and diversity criteria into [a new RFP], and perhaps expanding it and requiring some mandatory reporting from the law firms,” said Pon. “I want to do additional work in that area. For lawyers, it’s really our responsibility to understand and help tackle the lack of equity and diversity, not only in our field but in our organizations as well.”
Anti-oppression measures represent another underexplored area. “We will be continuing our [efforts] in understanding truth and reconciliation, employing that knowledge in the work that we do,” Pon said.