Kitchener-Waterloo

'A blueprint for further action,' school board says of report into police call about Black 4-year-old

The Waterloo Catholic District School Board says findings of a third-party investigation into how it handled a situation involving a four-year-old student demonstrate the need for further action on anti-Black racism and supporting students in crisis. 

Board says report also highlights need to better support students in crisis

The Waterloo Catholic District School Board exterior is pictured in February, 2022. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

The Waterloo Catholic District School Board says findings of a third-party investigation into how it handled a situation involving a four-year-old student demonstrate the need for further action on anti-Black racism and supporting students in crisis. 

The Ontario Ministry of Education launched its review into the board on Feb. 25, after it was publicly revealed that police were called to John Sweeney Catholic Elementary School for a four-year-old child in crisis earlier in the fall.

Police said officers worked to de-escalate the situation and drove the child home. Advocates for Black families spoke out against the incident, suggesting the child was criminalized by the school board, where systemic anti-Black racism has existed for generations.

The provincial investigation wrapped up this week with a report released to the board and the student's family on Wednesday. 

The report, which was not released publicly and which CBC has not reviewed, aimed "to provide objective analysis of the circumstances surrounding this event and with the mandate to recommend actions to the board to ensure it never happens again," the province said.

CBC Kitchener-Waterloo reached out to the people who spoke for the Nigerian family of the student. They wanted time to review the report and have not provided comment.

Board regrets 'hurt and distress caused'

On Thursday, the school board released a statement responding to the report findings.

"We deeply regret the obvious hurt and distress caused to this young child in our care, and to his family, and indeed the Black community," said Loretta Notten, director of education, assuring the impacted family and community that the school board is committed to "doing better."

"The report is a blueprint for further action for us — on anti-Black racism, on how we support a student in crisis and on our relationships with parents," she said.

Loretta Notten is Director of Education for the Waterloo Catholic District School Board. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Notten said there is gap in supports for students in crisis, an issue that can be resolved with help from the ministry. She said more students are presenting with risky, violent behaviours that may harm them or other students and staff.

"It is likely quite challenging for someone outside of the education realm who has not experienced such a situation, to imagine a scenario with a child so young, yet this is a reality in schools across the province," she said.

In an interview with CBC, Notten said the report makes 14 recommendations for the school board and five for the Ministry of Education about ways to strengthen policies around combating systemic racism and respond in critical situations.

A spokesperon for the ministry has not responded to a request for comment.

Next steps 

Notten said there is a safety plan to deal with students who are violent; however, when all measures are exhausted the final option is to call police and emergency services.

"That is not a choice any educator ever wants to make," she said.

Notten admitted that calling police on a Black student has a greater impact on the student because of the history of systemic racism. 

"We need provincial assistance in knowing who to call when — in the discretion of the principal — under their duty of care they decide that an emergency call is necessary," she said.

"The school system needs to be able to work with its community partners to provide a variety of options for interventions that are culturally responsive and can meet the needs of our diverse community," she added.

Notten said the board needs to hear from parents of Black students, and support them. 

Notten said she will share a more fulsome response to the review and next steps in a board meeting on Monday. 


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.

(CBC)

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