After community raises concerns of racism in schools, public board promises 'to keep listening'

The Waterloo Region District School Board's director of education jeewan chanicka released a video message to address concerns raised by community members about racism in schools, in particular a recent case where a Kitchener teacher was charged.

Concerns involved Kitchener teacher charged with assault connected to two students

The Waterloo Region District School Board's director of education jeewan chanicka is seen in this screengrab from a video message to the community after parents and others raised concerns about how racialized students are treated in area schools. (WRDSB/YouTube)

After members of the community raised concerns about racism in Waterloo region schools, the director of education of the public school board had a message for the community: "We promise to keep listening to you."

There have been serious allegations involving students who are racialized, jeewan chanicka of the Waterloo Region District School Board said in a video message posted to the board's website. 

A 52-year-old teacher who worked at Alpine Public School was charged Nov. 4 for allegedly taping up two children in her classroom. The parent of one of the students involved told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo that he believes the alleged assault was racially motivated.

"As a director of education, and as a father, I have wanted to speak to you about these difficult issues," chanicka said in the video message. "But I've had to grapple with what I could possibly say that would give you comfort, comfort to parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents and caring community members."

He said that in some cases, the board cannot comment because of the nature of the complaint or the process the case must go through.

"I know that this does not respond to your fear, anger, pain — pain that has built on generations of experiences," chanicka said. "We promise to do better. We promise to keep listening to you. We promise to keep working to address the concerns you have raised."

Watch | WRDSB director of education jeewan chanicka's message to the community after allegations of racism in schools.

Unanswered questions, parents say

He said the board is working to create an environment for all students to feel welcome, that staff and educators "are all saddened by these allegations" and they're working to address concerns.

The comments from chanicka come after members of the school board met with the Coalition of Muslim Women on Monday to discuss concerns from racialized parents about their children's safety following the assault charges against the Kitchener teacher.

Fauzia Mazhar, who is with the coalition, said there have been unanswered questions for parents.

She said the coalition also recommended the board set up future meetings with parents to discuss how these incidents are handled.

"So that [parents] understand what has transpired without breaking privacy or confidentiality," Mazhar said. "It's not just about listening to their concerns but also being prepared to answer questions that they will have."