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High school teacher who used N-word in class allowed to keep working after apologizing

A group of students is sounding the alarm after a high school teacher was recorded in class using the N-word, and questioning why the regulatory college investigating the case gave her little more than what they say is a slap on the wrist.

Anne Stewart faces verbal reprimand by Ontario College of Teachers, but some want to see further action

A veteran high school teacher Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School in Brampton, Ont. is facing a verbal reprimand for saying the N-word in class. The teacher, Anne Stewart, has apologized. (Google Maps )

A group of students is sounding the alarm after a high school teacher was recorded in class using the N-word, and questioning why the regulatory college investigating the case gave her little more than what they say is a slap on the wrist.

Anne Stewart, a teacher at Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School in Brampton, Ont. was recorded telling students in May 2019 that she had "become comfortable" saying N-word and went on to ask one of them if she had ever read the book To Kill a Mockingbird.

In the recording, Stewart, who is white, is heard talking about various news articles she was going to present to her students, saying one article contained a word that made her uncomfortable.

A student who apparently knew what Stewart was referring to is heard asking if that word was "cum."

Stewart confirms, saying that is "a hard word" for her and explaining she is from a different generation. She goes on to say that she has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, before turning to the discussion of her comfort level with the N-word.

At that point, a student is heard saying, "Miss, you're kidding me," and begins getting ready to leave. Stewart is heard saying, "But you're not listening to my explanation."

The student repeats that she wasn't expecting to hear that word said and that she needed to excuse herself from the classroom.

Case not sent to discipline committee

"Have I been so mean to you all semester?" Stewart is heard asking. The student replies no, but adds she can't be forced to sit in a room where she was uncomfortable — then leaves.

That September, the student filed a complaint to the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT), which investigated the incident. CBC News is not identifying the student, who is Black, because she says she felt traumatized by what happened and did not want to be interviewed.

The college concluded the allegation that Stewart used the N-word was "substantiated," saying in a confidential decision seen by CBC News that it "has serious concerns" about its use.

Anne Stewart faces verbal reprimand by Ontario College of Teachers, but some students want to see further action. (Submitted by Simrit Khabra)

"The Member's callous use of the term... shows disregard for the emotional safety and well-being of her students, and disrespect for the diversity of our classroom," the OCT's investigation committee said in its decision.

But despite that written rebuke, the panel opted not to raise the complaint to the next level: its disciplinary committee. Instead, it chose to issue Stewart an "admonishment in person."

OCT spokesperson Gabrielle Barkany said the college is not legally permitted to say whether that verbal reprimand has happened yet.

Details about cases are made public only if a case rises to the level of a discipline committee — something not done in Stewart's case.

'Derogatory and hurtful'

Simrit Khabra is a former student of the school and helped her friend launch the complaint. She says the college's decision amounts merely to a "stern talking-to."

Khabra had already graduated from the school at the time of the incident, but having listened to the recording and witnessing her friend's anguish over what happened, she said the college's decision was "insufficient to say the least." 

"I heard someone who is unapologetic about their use of terminology that is derogatory and hurtful," Khabra said of the recording. "I was quite angry." 

"Consider what's happening to students in that classroom — not just the student who took the recording. Other Black students probably might feel attacked or unsafe or less-than or discriminated against," Khabra said.

Simrit Khabra is a former student of the school and helped her friend launch the complaint. She says the college's decision amounts merely to a "stern talking-to." (Chris Glover)

"When you feel that way, you feel as though you can't excel in an environment. That may impact your grades...You may feel as though education is not a safe space for you anymore. So it has impacts at a personal level."

Stewart has been found guilty of professional misconduct before. An earlier investigation by the college found that her relationship with four students in the 2007-2008 school year "crossed professional boundaries," for allowing students to drive her car and dining out together. Her punishment in that case was a course on violating boundaries.  

Teacher 'expressed remorse and apologized': board

Jerry Raso, Stewart's lawyer, told CBC News he couldn't comment on the case, saying it remains an active one.

Raso did not respond when asked about how Stewart felt about the verbal reprimand, the past finding of misconduct or allegations by other students about a larger pattern of racist comments.

Meanwhile, Stewart remains a teacher "in good standing" with the Ontario College of Teachers. She also remains an employee of the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB) and a teacher at Notre Dame. 

In a statement to CBC News, the board said it "immediately and fully" investigated the complaint brought against Stewart, stressing that the OCT is an entirely separate body from that of the board.

"The DPCDSB treated this incident as a serious infraction and addressed it accordingly," said spokesperson Bruce Campbell, adding the complaint was addressed through the board's employee relations and inclusive education departments both at the time of the incident and again in the fall.

Campbell also said Stewart "expressed remorse and apologized to the class."

Need to address systemic racism: former student

The statement goes on to say that the board strongly condemns anti-Black racism and has worked to combat it through professional development, education and by creating guidelines around responding to the use of the N-word in schools. 

Any student who experiences anti-Black racism is encouraged to report it, the board says. Students who don't feel comfortable doing so through their school administrator can file an anonymous report on the board's website. 

That's little comfort to Khabra, who says not only do teachers need to be held to a higher standard, school boards need to address systemic problems that have led to troubling statistics, such as Black students making up some 22.5 per cent of suspensions in Peel Region despite comprising just 10.2 per cent of the high school student population. 

If there's any silver lining for Khabra, it's that posting about the incident to Instagram this week has generated a firestorm of comments in the wake of discussions around anti-Black racism sparked by the death of George Floyd in the U.S.

With files from Chris Glover and Derick Deonarain

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