York school board elects new chair after allegations of racism, Islamophobia

After months of controversy involving allegations of Islamaphobia and systemic racism, the York Regional District School Board voted in a new board chair Monday night.

Parents cheer after board votes Loralea Carruthers in as chair

Loralea Carruthers was voted in as the new chairwoman of the York Region District School Board Monday evening, in the wake of allegations of racism and Islamophobia at the board. (Global)

After months of controversy involving allegations of Islamophobia and systemic racism, the York Regional District School Board (YRDSB) voted in a new board chair Monday night.

Loralea Carruthers, trustee for East Gwillimbury and Whitchurch-Stouffville, will replace former chairwoman Anna DeBartolo.

The move comes less than two weeks after Ontario's education minister demanded an action plan from the board on how it plans to address the allegations.

In a letter addressed to all YRDSB trustees, Mitzie Hunter said she continues to "have concerns" about how the board is addressing the problems "and, therefore, am making a specific request for information about the current issues and plans for how the board will move forward to address and resolve them."

Hunter asked for the action plan no later than Jan. 13.

Complaints surfaced in September about a series of posts on a Facebook page belonging to Ghada Sadaka, principal of Sir Wilfrid Laurier Public School in Markham.

In one, Sadaka shared a CNN video about Islam in Britain, adding her own comment: "This has to go viral. Share and post! Oh Lord." 

One of the Facebook posts shared by Markham principal Ghada Sadaka. (Facebook)

In another, Sadaka shared a photo showing two sets of women with the caption: "If bikinis are banned in Muslim countries, then burqas should be banned in Europe," Sadaka wrote. "Share if you agree."

The posts have been removed from her page and Sadaka apologized for them in a statement she issued last month. She is on leave for what says is a "pre-existing medical condition" until the new year.

Human rights complaint

In addition, a community coalition filed a human rights complaint last week against the York Region District School Board, citing numerous incidents of racism in the region's school system, as well the Facebook posts by Sadaka.

At a news conference on Friday, representatives for the Vaughan African Canadian Association and the National Council of Canadian Muslims joined local parents in a public call for "accountability and transparency" from the board.

Charlene Grant, who has three children attending YRDSB schools, filed a human rights complaint against the board in February, alleging racist treatment of her children. Her husband, Gareth Bobb, spoke at Friday's news conference.

Charlene Grant, who filed a human rights complaint last February alleging racist mistreatment of her children at YRDSB schools, says she finally "feels heard" now that Carruthers has been elected chair. (Global)

Grant said all she and her husband got in return was "shrugged shoulders" when they took their complaints to the board. 

"If you don't like the system put them in private school; that's the attitude," she said Monday. 

Grant, who was present for the vote installing Carruthers as chair, says she "feels heard" now that DeBartolo is gone and Carruthers has replaced her.

"Finally, someone's listening. Finally, our voices ... it's not in vain," she said.

"For the Muslim community, the Jewish community, all the communities who supported us, I'm very grateful."