Kitchener-Waterloo

Waterloo Catholic school board called police on 4-year-old child, advocates say

Advocates for Black families are speaking out after they say police were called to a Catholic elementary school in Kitchener, Ont., last fall to deal with an incident involving a four-year-old child. The Catholic board said it met with the family but couldn't comment on the incident due to privacy legislation.

Groups call for investigation into anti-Black racism within Waterloo Catholic District School Board

Fidelia Ukuaje, president of Nigerians in the Region of Waterloo, was acting as a spokesperson for a local Nigerian family after a school in the Waterloo Catholic District School Board called police last November over a four-year-old child's behavioural issues. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Advocates for Black families are speaking out after they say police were called to a Catholic elementary school in Kitchener, Ont., last fall to deal with an incident involving a four-year-old.

Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) confirmed that officers attended a Catholic elementary school on Nov. 29, 2021, in response to a report of a student in crisis who was said to be acting violently. Police said officers attempted to de-escalate the student's behaviour, contacted a family member and drove the child home.

Fidelia Ukueje, the president of the group Nigerians in the Region of Waterloo, is acting as a spokesperson for the Nigerian family of the student as the mother is too upset to speak to media. She disputes the account by police and says the student was reportedly acting out — jumping on a desk and running away from a teacher — but was not being violent.

"The school board has failed a four-year-old by criminalizing a child," said Ukueje. "Nothing justified what the school board did to that child."

The Waterloo Catholic District School Board has not confirmed the incident. In response to questions, the board said it had met with the family on Wednesday, but could not comment on the situation because of privacy legislation.

Board has protocols for contacting police

According to the school board, there is an agreed-upon protocol between the board and the WRPS for when it becomes necessary to contact police.

A chart used by schools lists a series of scenarios that could result in a range of responses, from the school reporting to police using an online system, to calling parents or guardians, to consulting with police and finally to having police attend the school.

A classification of incidents chart provided by the Waterloo Catholic District School Board shows the agreed-upon protocol between the board and Waterloo Region Police for when officers should be called to a school. (Waterloo Catholic District School Board)

CBC could not confirm what classification the November incident would have fallen into.

In an email to CBC, a spokesperson said the school board does not track the number of calls made to police by schools, but said it was safe to say there would be several calls for service per week from schools in the region, based on various issues identified on the chart.

Incident part of broader pattern, group says 

Charline Grant, a member of the advocacy group Parents of Black Children, also attended Wednesday's meeting along with members of the Early Childhood Development Initiative. She said she's been in touch with the family.

She is concerned that this situation speaks to what she says is a broader pattern of Black children being treated more harshly than their peers for normal childish behaviour.

"It's the criminalization of our Black boys and our Black children," said Grant. "Our children are not given the freedom to be kids." 

Kitchener Centre MPP Laura Mae Lindo echoed those concerns. She pointed to another incident last fall in the Waterloo Region District School Board, where a teacher was charged with assault after allegedly taping two children with masking tape in the classroom.

At the time, the family involved in the incident told CBC KW that they believed race was a factor.

"The normalcy with which policies are used to discipline and literally traumatize Black children, it's far too common," said Lindo, who has called for changes to legislation to fight racism in the province's schools.

Patricia Falope, left, with the Early Childhood Development Initiative, and Charline Grant of the group Parents of Black Children were part of Wednesday's meeting with the family and school board. Many in the group are calling for an investigation into anti-Black racism within the board. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Parent group calls for investigation 

Grant and others in the Parents of Black Children group want to see accountability from the Waterloo Catholic District School Board and are also calling for an investigation into anti-Black racism within the board, as previously happened in the Peel District School Board, part of the Greater Toronto Area.

As for the family involved, Ukueje said they are concerned about their child's record. She also said the child has been "excluded" from attending school. 

The Catholic board confirmed that the child has been "on exclusion" and has not been allowed to attend in-person classes since Jan. 18.

Grant said the child will be switching out of the Catholic board but has not begun at a new school yet.

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.

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