'I feel so helpless': Dad says his daughter faces anti-Black racism at Hamilton Catholic school
School allegedly didn't call police after child attacked or follow concussion protocol
WARNING: This story contains distressing details
The father of a 14-year-old says that when she started Grade 9 in September, she'd run out the door eager to get to her Catholic high school in Hamilton's Stoney Creek area.
He said that seven months later, his daughter is scared to leave her home and has suicidal thoughts. The family says it's because of anti-Black racism and violence she experienced at the school.
The father said the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board (HWCDSB) has inadequately addressed his family's concerns. He's now co-ordinating with community advocacy groups like the non-profit Parents of Black Children to create change.
"I feel so helpless ... I don't know what I'm supposed to do," he told CBC Hamilton on May 13, two days after meeting with HWCDSB representatives and school staff for over five hours to discuss the matter.
CBC Hamilton isn't naming the teenager, her parents or her school out of concern for her welfare.
"I'm concerned, not only for my own child, but for other Black children," the father said.
The school board told CBC it's taking the concerns seriously and is reviewing its processes and practices — even though community groups in the meeting say they left unsatisfied.
"We recognize that anti-Black racism exists within our board and, as a Catholic school system, are committed to eradicating racism in all its forms and creating inclusive, welcoming environments," board chair Pat Daly said in an email.
Allegations of bullying, bathroom beating
The father said bullies started targeting his daughter about a month into this school year.
He said his daughter told him that people were posting photos of her online, calling her by a racist nickname and making derogatory comments about her appearance.
The father said he approached the school and was told it was investigating, but that some of the social media accounts had already disappeared. It's unclear who made the social media posts.
He said he doesn't know the results of that investigation.
The bullying continued, reaching a tipping point on Dec. 6, 2021, he said.
The father said his daughter was in the washroom when two students spit at her and attacked her.
He said the incident was recorded and shared on social media. CBC Hamilton has not seen the video. (Parents of Black Children are not sharing it with the media to protect the child's identity).
"They beat her with such hate," the father said, referring to what he saw in the video.
The incident came shortly after the release of a Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion report that found almost all the Black students it surveyed said they felt unsafe at school and have faced racism.
Family criticizes safety plan for student
The father said his daughter told the school about the fight and a resulting headache, which prompted him to go to the school and take her to the hospital. He said she was diagnosed with a concussion.
He said the school didn't contact the police and he had to report the incident himself to them — the Ministry of Education mandates that school boards call police if a student assaults someone badly enough to require treatment from a medical practitioner.
HWCDSB told CBC it was aware of the incident and that the father had contacted police. It didn't respond to a specific question about why the school didn't make the call.
The school board said it shared communication with families on Dec. 14 about the incident through its parents' portal, stating the administration was investigating and handed out "appropriate consequences."
When asked about the incident on Dec. 6, Hamilton police told CBC that two youths were charged with assault causing bodily harm and they found no evidence of a hate crime, despite the family saying they feel it was racially motivated.
The school said it could not comment on specific disciplinary matters.
The father said the school's safety plan for his daughter after the incident didn't do much to protect her and was restrictive.
He said it forced her to only enter and exit the school through a single door, avoid communication with other students and leave school as soon as possible after her classes ended.
The father also said the school board didn't follow its required concussion protocol for students.
The school board didn't respond to CBC questions about the concussion concerns.
The father said the bullying got worse this past month, prompting the daughter to start staying home. It's impacted her grades and her mental health, the family said.
Family unhappy with school board meeting
The family said the school board dismissed their concerns multiple times, leading the father to contact Parents of Black Children and three other community groups.
On May 11, the family and the groups met with HWCDSB director David Hansen and other administrators.
The father said without the groups, he doubts the meeting would have happened.
He and the groups tried to get reporters into the room, but the school board requested that media leave. The meeting started at roughly 1:45 p.m. ET and lasted over five hours.
Charline Grant, a co-founder and chief advocacy officer with Parents of Black Children, came from York Region to support the family at the May 11 meeting. She told CBC it's the longest meeting she's ever been involved in with a school board.
She said the board's equity officer didn't know about the incident until it was discussed at the meeting. The board didn't respond to questions about that.
Grant said the board is "clueless" about anti-Black racism and offered among the worst responses she's ever seen.
"I left that school feeling any Black child or racialized child in that school or board are in serious trouble."
School board says it 'can and must' improve
CBC Hamilton asked HWCDSB about the concerns over the May 11 meeting. The statement from Daly, who wasn't at the gathering, said HWCDSB takes "all allegations of racism and bullying extremely seriously." He added that school staff appreciated hearing from the family and community groups.
"We will be reviewing our processes and practices at the school and system level, and putting in place supports for the student. As a school board and as a Catholic Christian community, we recognize that we can and must do better."
In 2020, board trustees passed an anti-racism plan that included forming a committee to hear from racialized students, boosting anti-racism training and hiring an equity officer.
Grant said Daly's "stock response" is harmful.
She said the group has made recommendations to the board that it should now ask police to investigate the incidents involving the 14-year-old as a hate crime, contact the Children's Aid Society and create an equity committee.
Grant also believes the Ministry of Education should investigate.
The ministry responded to questions on May 13, and didn't say if it's looking into the case or investigating, but it condemned violence at schools. It also said while the ministry offers funding and frameworks for schools, the boards are responsible for how schools run and they make choices about which resources are available to the community.
The father said he's worried other children are going through what his daughter has been dealing with, and wants the board to act immediately.
"What I'm looking for is my child to be treated like any other child that can go to school and feel comfortable."
If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, there is help out there:
- The Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only) | crisisservicescanada.ca
- Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868. You can also text CONNECT to 686868 and get immediate support from a crisis responder through the Crisis Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone. Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca
- In Quebec (French): Association Québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
- Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre
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 Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.