Ontario families file human rights complaints against York school board over allegations of racism

A community group representing seven Ontario families have filed a human rights complaint against the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) on Friday over its inability to properly address incidents of Islamophobia and systemic racism within the institution’s ranks.

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“The culture that exists relies on the code of protecting their system even if that system is negatively affecting our children,” Vaughan African Canadian Association (VACA) Executive Director Shernett Martin told reporters at a news conference Friday morning in Toronto.

“Staff cover for each other, defend each other, ignore criticism and fail to follow up on community concerns in order to protect the reputation of the board.”

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The community group says the human rights complaint stems from the school board’s lack of conviction to manage and resolved incidents of racism.

A Markham elementary school principal is currently under investigation by board officials after she was caught posting anti-Muslim content on her Facebook page. She has since been placed on medical leave until the new year.

Meanwhile, the head of equity at the York Region board recently released a scathing letter to senior staff questioning how the investigation is being handled and culture of fear that exists within the board’s ranks.

Ontario Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter just last week requested the board to present an anti-racism action plan by January.

“We have to acknowledge that we have heard an increasing sense of fear among parents and their guardians if they speak up about human rights violations,” National Council of Canadian Muslims board member Abbas Kassam told reporters on Friday.

“The level of fear we are hearing from families is crippling. There can be no trust in the presence of such fear. There’s no public confidence if there is no trust.”

Some of the recommendations included in the human rights complaint include mandatory equity and anti-racism training for senior staff and teachers, implementation of an equity audit, the appointment of an education ombudsman or commissioner and a public issuance of an apology by the board.

“We stand with parents who simply want their children to attend school in a safe and caring environment,” Martin said.

“Our parents speak about their child having racial slurs hurled at them, feeling marginalized, accused of things they did not do simply because they fit a certain stereotype.”

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