Hamilton

HWDSB launching investigation after student trustee raises 'disturbing' allegations of racism

Ahona Mehdi, one of two student trustees who filled the role during the 2019-2020 school year, described her time with the board as the "most patronizing experience of my life."

'Racism and oppression will not be tolerated,' tweeted board chair Alex Johnstone

Ahona Mehdi, an outgoing student trustee with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, said the board is a "disgustingly racist" organization. Now the board has announced an investigation into the concerns she raised. (HWDSB)

Hamilton's public school board says it will immediately launch a third-party investigation following "deeply disturbing" allegations of racism raised by an outgoing student trustee.

The announcement comes after Ahona Mehdi, one of two student trustees who filled the role during the 2019-2020 school year, described her time with the board as the "most patronizing experience of my life."

Mehdi shared her experience in a series of tweets posted Saturday night, saying she's "beyond grateful to no longer serve as the board's token for student voice & diversity."

The tweets detail negative experiences while working with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) and call it a "disgustingly racist and oppressive institution."

Mehdi did not immediately respond to request for comment Sunday. CBC has not independently verified her allegations.

In response, board chair Alex Johnstone and director of education Manny Figueiredo shared a statement of their own on Twitter just before 10:30 p.m. Saturday announcing the investigation.

It describes Mehdi's tweets as "serious concerns about racism and oppression" and says the board is committed to building an equitable and inclusive culture.

"We will immediately begin a third-party Code of Conduct investigation to understand and address all of the concerns raised," the statement reads.

On Sunday a spokesperson for the board said the statement it shared on social media and its website would be its only comment on the "serious issue."

Mehdi is not the first person to raise concerns about racism with the board.

A report titled Deconstructing Racism and Islamophobia was released in February by the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion and a group called HWDSB Kids Need Help.

It described student experiences with racism and called on the board to take several actions, including terminating the Hamilton Police School Liaison Program, which puts officers in schools.

HWDSB Kids Need Help tweeted Saturday that Mehdi is a member and said it stands in support and solidarity with her.

The board ultimately voted to end the program at a meeting in June, amid a sit-in protest on Main Street outside Hamilton City Hall.

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board voted to terminate its police liaison program during a meeting Monday. Meanwhile, protesters with HWDSB Kids Need Help blocked off Main Street outside Hamilton City Hall. (@HWDSBKids/Twitter)

"We believe it is vital to advance the work of equity and anti-racism," said Johnstone and Figueiredo in their statement Saturday. "Anti-racism and anti-oppression training will continue to roll out in HWDSB for elected officials and staff in the 2020-21 school year, among many other actions."

Johnstone also addressed the allegations in a tweet from her personal account, saying the board is "committed to action and change" to address the concerns.

"Racism and oppression will not be tolerated," she added.

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