Teacher who allegedly compared student to 'crackhead' no longer a board employee

A Toronto teacher who allegedly compared a Grade 6 student to a "crackhead" is no longer employed with the school board, a spokesperson says, but it's unclear if he could end up in front of another class.

Toronto District School Board won't say whether the teacher could end up in front of a classroom again

Abigail Francis, right, alleges a teacher made a racist remark when he was explaining a school assignment to her son, Isaiah Francis, a student at Norman Cook Public School. The teacher is no longer employed by the Toronto District School Board, a spokesperson says. (Submitted by Abigail Francis)

A substitute teacher who allegedly compared a Grade 6 student to a "crackhead" no longer works with the Toronto District School Board, a spokesperson told CBC on Wednesday, but it's unclear if he could end up in front of a classroom again.

The development follows a reported incident at Norman Cook Public School late last month, when the teacher allegedly responded to a question about an English assignment with what Abigail Francis, the boy's mother, believes was nothing short of a racist remark.

The class had been assigned a poetry project called "All the places we love." When 11-year-old son Isaiah asked for clarification, the teacher allegedly responded, "It means like home sweet home. Or maybe for you, in a dark alleyway like a crackhead."

Francis told CBC Toronto earlier this month that one of Isaiah's classmates encouraged him to file a report.

'He wouldn't have said that to me because I'm white'

"If I had gone up and asked the same question, he wouldn't have said that to me because I'm white," the classmate told Isaiah, according to Francis. 

Isaiah, his mother points out, is half-black, half-Indian and one of just three black students in his class. 

The comment left Isaiah and other members of the class stunned, according to his mother, and prompted an investigation by the board in December. The teacher was put on "home assignment," meaning he would remain out of TDSB schools.
Isaiah with his baby sister. The 11-year-old and his classmates reported a racial comment allegedly made by Isaiah's teacher in December that resulted in a TDSB investigation. (Supplied by Abigail Francis)

"If the allegation is founded, it is completely unacceptable and goes against the considerable work the TDSB is doing to combat racism, bias and oppression," spokesperson Ryan Bird said at the time. 

The board, citing privacy reasons, wouldn't say if the teacher was dismissed or resigned. 

Unclear if teacher faced discipline

Asked about the circumstances that led to the teacher no longer working at the board, Bird could not say.

The school board would also not comment on results of the internal investigation, any disciplinary action, whether the incident might be flagged to other boards that could potentially employ the teacher, or whether he could end up working for the TDSB again. 

Francis said she has been in contact with the school's superintendent, who has called her every few days to update her on the investigation. But TDSB officials haven't yet confirmed whether the teacher's licence has been affected.

While the board's director and superintendent have apologized to Francis, Isaiah has yet to receive an apology from the teacher, his mother said.

Mother's concerns linger

Francis said she held off on filing a formal complaint with the Ontario College of Teachers because she wanted to see if the teacher would acknowledge the damage done by his alleged comment and apologize.

"I could work with that. I just don't want this happening to other children. This is a white male teacher talking to a child who is black," she said. "He attached a stereotype to him."

Francis said she's relieved the teacher won't be returning to her son's school, but maintains it's important that the board reveal the terms on which he left. 

"I didn't want him allowed in any school if he couldn't acknowledge and own up to his violation and engage with Isaiah by apologizing directly to him," she said. 

"I'm grateful he's no longer employed. He's not here, he's not able to affect other students" in Isaiah's class, she said.

"But can he move to other boards? Can he do this again?"

With files from Shanifa Nasser, Malone Mullin