Toronto school under fire for handling of anti-black racism

The Toronto District School Board Education Centre on Yonge Street. (Photo from Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The Toronto District School Board recently admitted there were “gaps” in the way staff at a Toronto school handled racist attacks on a black student by a white classmate.

But the girl’s mother and anti-racism advocates say it hasn’t done enough close those gaps and end racial discrimination within its nearly 600 schools.

In several posts to social media this month, a woman with the Instagram handle @__chocolatecharlie provided an account of ongoing physical and verbal assaults against her daughter, a black student at Glenview Senior Public School, by a white male classmate.

She also accused staff at the school of attempting to cover up or minimize the severity of the attacks and of neglecting to report past incidents to the school’s principal. She said the school’s failure to protect her daughter stems from racial discrimination among its staff and inherent in the school board’s administration.

“If this had been a black little boy that did this to a white little girl there would be justice,” she said on Instagram.

According to the woman, the school’s vice principal contacted her in March to explain that her daughter, identified in the social media posts as Genesis, had been punched in the face by another student.

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She alleges, however, that staff only called her after attempting to minimize the appearance of swelling around the girl’s eye with ice, and that they failed to mention she had also been struck in the face with a binder, triggering a nosebleed. She said she only learned of that injury because the girl told her about it, and that she feels the school intentionally downplayed the seriousness of the attack.

“They knew how I would react to the incident so they tried to cover it up,” she said in a social media post. She alleged the boy’s bullying goes back as far as November and includes using the N-word and spreading rumours that the girl “has sex with her dad.”

In a statement released on May 4, the board confirmed racist and violent attacks had taken place at the school and said staff had addressed them, but did not specify how. It also acknowledged that anti-black racism exists within its schools, which serve 246,000 students, and that while it has policies in place for dealing with racism, staff failed to follow them in Genesis’s case.

“In this specific case, there were gaps in how the procedures were followed and for that, we apologize,” the statement says. “As a system, we know that anti-black racism exists within our schools and we remain committed to identifying, challenging and overcoming it.”

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Although the board says it continues to take her concerns seriously, the girl’s mother alleges the boy continues to harass her daughter and says she still feels school staff are failing the girl.

“The student is still at the school bullying my daughter and the school is doing nothing to stop this child,” she said in a social media post. “He’s always at my daughter’s locker.” On May 6, the woman, who has not responded to requests by Yahoo Canada for an interview or to confirm her name, has said on social media she plans to stage a peaceful protest outside Glenview Senior Public School. She has not publicly shared any other details about the event.

Neethan Shan photographed at Toronto City Hall. (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Neethan Shan is the executive director of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations and says he knows firsthand that the board is continuously working to provide anti-racism training to staff. But that training, he says, only scratches the surface of systemic racism present at every level of educational systems. Shan is a parent himself, as well a former Toronto city councillor, TDSB trustee and York Region Public School board trustee.

“My concern is about the scale and depth at which this training happens,” he said. “This nature of downplaying anti-black racism or undermining the concerns of parents consistently happens, and that’s why anti-black racism is allowed to happen in the system.”

Shan said many parents like Genesis’ mother have no advocates within school boards who can support and assist them in keeping schools and staff accountable for how they handle incidents like this. If they did, Genesis’ mother would not have had to make her story public in order to elicit a response from the board acknowledging its mistakes.

“If parents don’t have the resources and the support or means to hold the school system accountable, in many cases these things don’t get addressed, and that is a problem,” he said.

“We need to find a way to resolve these issues without having the parent go to social media or change schools.”

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