Dozens of people gathered outside Toronto high school on Saturday to demand an end to anti-black racism after a teacher wore a black face to a school for Halloween.
The rally outside Parkdale Collegiate Institute, where the event took place on October 29, aimed to combat racism in schools.
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) later put the teacher into homework, but community members are calling for stronger action by the board, saying incidents involving racism and discrimination in schools should not be tolerated.
Parents and students demand that the teacher be fired.
Ayan Kailie, a Black parent who attended the rally, said the teacher has to face consequences for what he did and the damage it caused to both parents and students.
“He should be fired. He shouldn’t be home, paid,” Kailie said. “I’m dismayed and discouraged. I’m terrified of my kids every day.”
Kailie, a member of the parent council at Swansea Junior and Senior Public School in the west end of Toronto, was a vocal activist for anti-black racism within Toronto’s school system.
She said she fears for her children who attend TDSB schools because the board’s current policies “are not strong enough.”
“I’ve experienced so much racism and I’ve seen so much racism happen,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking because you see it happen over and over again and nothing is done about it.”
Remi Ajao Russell, another attendee at the rally, called the black-faced incident an “attractive display of anti-black racism,” but only one of several she witnessed.
Russell, a student at Parkdale CI, said she witnessed several cases of racism at school, including one from a gymnastics teacher who said the N-word in class.
“Someone was playing rap [music], and he said he didn’t want to hear the N-word, but he did say the N-word, “Russell said.
“It certainly made me lose faith in management when it was shown how badly they treated this and other occasions.”
A petition, which garnered more than 3,400 signatures Saturday morning, calls on the TDSB to address racism within Toronto schools and hold those who discriminate against their actions accountable, adding that this is not a “one-time event”.
“It was traumatic to the children who were in the classroom, and it was unfair that the responsibility was on them to document through photos and appear to complain,” the petition reads.
“As parents, many of us have witnessed overt and micro-racial aggression against our children. This incident, however, is severe, shocking and critical,” the petition continues.
Parents said the current policy and protocols in place are not sufficient and they urged the board to create or provide the following:
- A policy of zero tolerance for hatred and racial discrimination.
- A secure, supportive and anonymous grievance mechanism that is supportive of students and based on principles of anti-repression so as not to become a snitch line.
- Public reporting on complaints of discrimination and racism.
- Employment practices that are transparent, fair and seek to diversify the workforce.
- Ongoing and frequent professional development in areas of anti-black racism, anti-colonialism, anti-repression and building in accountability through regular and rigorous performance appraisals.
In a letter to parents and students on Friday, the TDSB said it would complete its investigation into the matter and provide an update next week.
The TDSB said it has taken a number of steps since the event, such as holding a meeting for the school board and organizing sessions for students in grades 10-12 to “be heard and engage in critical discourse.”
On November 19, all employees will participate in learning about historical and current harm caused by black face and understanding the difference between freedom of expression and hate speech, the letter added.
Also among those in attendance at Saturday’s rally was Bhutila Karpoche, MPP for Parkdale – High Park, who said the school board should do its part to make sure black students feel safe while attending TDSB schools.
“Racism is very pervasive, and unfortunately. What happened at Parkdale Collegiate is not new,” Karpoche said. “There have been multiple incidents of anti-black racism.”
“I support the demands made by the students and the family members, especially by the Black Student Success Committee, including dismissal of the teacher.”
In a statement on November 3 after the incident, Colleen Russell-Rawlins, educational director for the TDSB, apologized to the school community.
“Far from a fun and joyous celebration for students on this occasion, this disrespectful and very offensive act brought pain and harm and served as a sad reminder of how much racism and oppression we still have to overcome in the TDSB through collective and individual actions.” said Rawlins.
“On behalf of the TDSB, I want to apologize to the students, families and staff who were affected at Parkdale CI, but also to the larger TDSB family – especially to those in the Black community – for the negative impact of this dehumanizing event. on the contrary. -Black racism. “
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians – from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community – check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.