6.1 C
New York
Wednesday, March 29, 2023

TDSB probing mom’s claim of racist incidents involving boy, 6

Toronto’s public school board has put three staffers from John Fisher Junior Public School on home assignment while it investigates allegations of racism and dozens of incidents involving a 6-year-boy that culminated, his mother alleges, with him being isolated in a small room as punishment.

Faridah, whose last name is not being published to protect the identity of her son, said it took audio from a digital recorder she planted on her child and the involvement of advocacy group Parents of Black Children to get the Toronto District School Board to take action after months of problems dating back to the beginning of this school year.

“On Thursday, March 2, TDSB staff learned about reports of serious acts of anti-Black racism at John Fisher J.P.S.,” board spokesperson Ryan Bird said Monday. “No child should experience what has been reported, and we apologize for the impact it has had on the student and their family.”

The principal, vice-principal and a teacher have been removed from the Yonge-Eglinton-area school — not as disciplinary action, Bird explained, but rather to allow for a proper investigation, which considering the number of allegations could take some time. An acting principal and vice-principal have been appointed and the board is still looking for a fill-in teacher.

“This is the type of approach we want to see, swift immediate action,” said Charline Grant, chief advocacy officer with Parents of Black Children, which released an advocacy framework Tuesday to respond to some of the pushback the group says is still happening in school boards faced with reports of racism.

Faridah, whose last name the Star is not publishing to protect the identity of her son, says her 6-year-old was exposed to anti-Black racism at the midtown Toronto school he attends. The Toronto District School Board is investigating the allegations against staff at John Fisher Junior Public School.

Faridah told the Star that there have been 48 incidents involving her son, beginning last September when her son’s Grade 1 teacher told her that her child was “not achieving anything” and had already fallen so behind that he would never catch up to his peers. Faridah was shocked to hear this about her son who always seemed to grasp things easily and has two gifted older siblings. Faridah claimed the teacher (now on personal leave according to the board) told her to take her son out of the French immersion program he had been in since Senior Kindergarten and go to an English-only school. Faridah said her son came home crying, repeating what he was hearing at school — that he wasn’t smart enough.

“In two weeks, you can’t decide if a child is suited for a program or not,” said Faridah. Although TDSB spokesperson Bird said the board could not comment on the details of any of the allegations under investigation, he did agree this kind of advice so early in the school year would be an unusual course of action for the board.

Faridah said it wasn’t until she reached out to the school superintendent that her son was switched to another teacher.

But for months afterwards, Faridah said she continued to be barraged by complaints from school staff about her son: he would not sit still; he was rolling around on the carpet; he was mimicking the secretaries; he was picking his nose. She was told her son was “obnoxious.”

“The idea of schools calling families rapidly and constantly is what we call over-surveillance,” an example of systemic racism that “happens all the time,” said Grant. “The constant calls are to wear (Faridah) down, for her to get fed up and say, you know what, let’s take him out (of the school).”

The boy spent hours sitting in the principal’s office, including for an alleged 11-day stretch, which Faridah said she discovered after the fact.

“Because I was getting lots of negative allegations against my son, I reached the point I wasn’t sure what was going on,” said Faridah, explaining why in late January she resorted to placing a digital recorder in the pocket of her son’s pants. She said she wanted to understand how her son was “navigating his environment” and “in case anything went wrong.”

A few days later, something did go wrong. Her son, at 4-foot-9 and big for his age, hit a classmate while apparently horsing around in class doing karate moves. A trip to the principal’s office allegedly ended with the boy being confined to a small room containing audio equipment and where, according to Bird, morning announcements are made.

When Faridah picked her son up from school that day, she could hardly believe her ears: her son said he had been isolated in a tiny room all day. Faridah confronted the vice-principal who allegedly denied the turn of events.

A small room off the school's main office where a mother says her 6-year-old son was placed as punishment.

Faridah went back through the recorder to find the alleged evidence of the interaction. In the meantime, a parent from her older child’s school community put Faridah in touch with Parents of Black Children.

“I was floored,” said Grant upon hearing Faridah’s story. In light of the denials that advocates often hear, Grant had only days before joked about the need to start encouraging families to buy spy cameras.

Parents of Black Children demanded to meet administrators, as well as visit the child’s classroom, where the boy’s desk was allegedly set apart from his classmates. By the end of the visit, the TDSB had committed to taking action.

“Without us, the response … wouldn’t have been the same,” said Grant. “For Parents of Black Children, we see advocacy as the great equalizer. It’s not just the parents against the leaders of the board.”

Since 2021, the provincially funded Student and Family Advocacy program has provided support to Black families dealing with disputes within the education system. However, some Ontario school boards continue to employ stall tactics, refuse to meet in person or try to circumnavigate the advocacy process, said Grant.

“Whenever Black families advocate, we know eventually we’re going to get resistance. That’s part of the work, it’s what history has showed us,” she said.

On Monday, the group met with union members, directors of educations, board equity officers and the Ministry of Education ahead of Tuesday’s press conference to present the new advocacy framework, which includes demands that school boards provide timely responses to emails and requests for meetings and not limit the representation of families and advocates at such meetings.

Faridah is pleased with the response by the TDSB, although, “it’s not enough to make my son have that inclusive environment; I want to see that for every Black child or person of colour who is going to experience exclusion and discrimination in the school environment.”

Her son, she added, is still “traumatized” and continues to have nightmares about school. But, when he returned to school Monday and discovered the acting principal at John Fisher is Black, “his face lit up.”

Janet Hurley is a Toronto Star journalist and senior writer covering culture, education and societal trends. She is based in Toronto. Reach her via email: jhurley@thestar.ca

Source link

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Stay Connected


Latest Articles