Parents say York Region school board has no plan to deal with allegations of systemic racism

Parents within the York Region District School Board say the trustees' plan to address ongoing allegations of systemic racism and Islamophobia provides no concrete details about how they'll actually do that.

'To hear the board talk about policies in place — they were in place, and we still had this issue'

Charline Grant and Garth Bobb said they're disappointed with the York Region District School Board's plan to address allegations of systemic racism. (CBC)

Parents within the York Region District School Board say the trustees' plan to address ongoing allegations of systemic racism and Islamophobia provides no concrete details about how they'll actually do that.

The board released a draft letter Wednesday that will be sent to Education Minister Mitzie Hunter in response to numerous "concerns" she'd raised in November. Hunter had requested "an action plan" from the board by Jan. 13.

One of the most prominent of those cases involved Ghada Sadaka, principal of Sir Wilfrid Laurier Public School in Markham, who published several posts on Facebook about Islam and refugees that some parents reported as offensive. Sadaka later apologized for the "discriminatory postings," one of which suggested banning burkas in Europe.

In a draft version of its letter, the board does not reveal the results of its investigation into complaints against Sadaka. Hunter had notified the board that numerous parents had contacted her office about a lack of transparency in the case.

York Region District School Board headquarters in Aurora, Ont. (York Region District School Board)

Instead, the letter listed "possible outcomes" in such investigations could include: a non-disciplinary letter or interview, a written or verbal reprimand, sanctions, or firing.

In October, the board confirmed to CBC Toronto that while it had conducted an investigation it would not release its results. 

It noted in its letter that there had been a "miscommunication" which may have led parents to believe the public would learn what, if anything, happened to Sadaka.

All words and no action, parents say

Charline Grant and Garth Bobb said that the board's plan focuses on the existing policies — rather than on those policies' failures in the past.

The couple have three children who attend schools within the board and allege they have filed dozens of complaints outlining instances when their oldest son was the target of racism. One included a teacher telling Grant's son's classmates, who were all Caucasian, to check their bags to ensure that the teen, a black student, had not stolen anything, she alleges.

"The tone of the meeting seems to be the same as what we've experienced over the last year," she said Wednesday. "The problem itself is not being addressed ... and to hear the board talk about policies in place — they were in place, and we still had this issue."

Education Minister Mitzie Hunter requested an action plan from the board by Jan. 13 outlining how it would address concerns about racism and Islamophobia. (CBC)

Grant and Bobb said that the board should have spent the last seven weeks meeting with the various faith and cultural groups who filed complaints. The pair has met with those in the Tamil, Jewish, Muslim and black communities and said they plan to work together to ensure their children are treated equitably. 

"All we want is for our children to be in a school system where they feel safe," Grant said. "If the director takes the importance of equity and racism and Islamophobia very seriously that will trickle down even to the students."

The board acknowledged in its letter that it needs to "build relationships in and with the affected community."

It promised the minister that its chair and vice-chair would do so in the coming months. Those conversations would be used to develop more detailed plans around racism and equity, the letter said.

YRDSB Trustee Loralea Carruthers acknowledged the board still has a 'lot of work to do'. (CBC)

Board needs more time: trustee

Trustee Loralea Carruthers told reporters after the meeting that the board understands there's "still a lot of work to be done." She said that trustees, however, need time to talk to the community in order to create a more fulsome plan.

Trustees will also undergo professional development courses about the effects of racism, according to the letter being sent to Hunter.

And the board said it was also open to any suggestions from the Ministry of Education. 

It remains unclear whether the letter answered her specific request for an "action plan" and for more transparency around the Sadaka case. 

"The community has voiced particular concerns over the transparency of this process and seeks clarity of what are the acceptable standards of behaviour in these circumstances," Hunter wrote. "What will you do to appropriately respond to this community and to the public?"

No one from the Ministry of Education responded to a request for comment sent late Wednesday night.

With files from Greg Ross