Toronto

Voters send 7 new trustees to a York School Board grappling with racism

Board faced incidents of anti-black discrimination, Islamophobia during previous term

October 24, 2018

Elizabeth Sinclair, a former Peel School Board superintendent, was elected to the York Region District School Board Monday. (Elizabeth Sinclair)

After a term plagued with scandals involving racism and discrimination, a slew of new faces will lead the embattled York Region District School Board (YRDSB) over the next four years.

In Monday's municipal elections, voters in York Region elected seven new trustees to the 12-person board, which will meet in December.

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Some of the new members say they'll begin their new jobs with a focus on systemic discrimination.

"Last year when they were having a lot of the issues … I was not happy with what was happening," said Elizabeth Sinclair, who defeated an incumbent trustee in Vaughan Wards 3 and 4.

"In this day and age, in 2018, this needs to stop," Sinclair said. 

The recent issues at the YRDSB date to a board meeting in late 2016, when former trustee Nancy Elgie used a racial slur in reference to a black parent.

A subsequent review by the province determined the board was operating under a "culture of fear" and "systemic discrimination." Then-education minister Mitzie Hunter issued 22 directives to address the concerns. The board's former education director J. Philip Parappally resigned following the report.

In September of this year, the board was also forced to apologize after a former principal at a Markham elementary school was found to have made anti-Muslim comments on Facebook during her time as principal.

"Clearly, the voters wanted change, and to see that, I'm extremely hopeful for it. I know there's a lot more work to be done," said Charline Grant, the parent Elgie referenced with the slur.

Grant used the incident as a springboard to run for a trustee position, but she was not elected on Monday.

"This doesn't change anything for me," she told CBC Toronto following her defeat. "I'm still going to be that voice for anyone who's going through anything at the board and needs my help."

Ongoing issues

Sinclair's election now makes her the sole black woman trustee on the board, and she says her experience and credentials will help the board make further progress towards reducing racism and discrimination.

Sinclair, who is a former Peel District School Board superintendent, said voters frequently brought up concerns about discrimination during the campaign. She says increased education and training for teachers and administrators is still needed.

Grant, meanwhile, says the board continues to struggle with basic discrimination issues, including the use of racial epithets.

Grant said a York Region parent recently approached her after a student called her child the N-word while at school.

Charline Grant, the mother of three children in the York Region District School Board, ran for a trustee position after a former board member used a racial slur in reference to her. (CBC)

She said the student was punished with a one-day suspension, but the principal and school largely dismissed the incident in a "nonchalant" fashion. The parent was concerned that there was no follow-up training or education to prevent similar incidents from happening again, Grant explained.

"The victim feels guilty; they feel hurt; their concerns are not heard," she said. "It was very discouraging and I thought, the board is still not getting it."

Mandatory training for staff was included among the directives issued to the YRDSB last year, but Grant says the board needs to take further action to educate parents and toughen the consequences for students who commit repeated racist acts.

More anti-racism education will also breed more harmony and acceptance, Sinclair added. She said that approach is the best way to create a more equitable environment for all students at the board.

"School is all about creating wonderful memories," Sinclair said

"Not things that you hate for life."

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