Opinion

York board owes parents a real explanation on principal's offensive Facebook posts

If Sadaka is indeed to continue her role as principal of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the YRDSB owes the public more than a cursory explanation of why, writes Shenaz Kermalli.

A pledge from the board to “learn and grow” sounds great, but what exactly does that mean?

A post on Ghada Sadaka's Facebook page. (Facebook)

If a principal who posted xenophobic videos and comments on her Facebook page isn't guilty of professional misconduct, who is?

Months after the York Region District School Board received complaints about Ghada Sadaka, principal of Sir Wilfrid Laurier School in Markham, Ont. about posts on her Facebook page, the board signaled that it's ready to move on with nothing more than a shrug and an apology.

Why does it matter what one teacher posts on her semi-private Facebook page? Because these comments are not simply reflective of one woman's opinion. They represent a growing fear of and hostility toward Muslims in our communities — and one that's likely to escalate, given Tuesday's decisive victory of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump.

In one post, Sadaka shared a video about Muslims wanting to take over Britain and turn Buckingham Palace into a mosque. She added her own comment: "This has to go viral. Share and post! Oh Lord." 

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

Sadaka has issued an apology, acknowledging that her posts were unacceptable.

"In the last two months, I have … learned a number of lessons about how sharing inappropriate posts on social media has affected those around me," she wrote in the statement. "Upon reflection, I accept sharing the posts was discriminatory, and should not have occurred."

While originally dismissing the issue as a staffing concern, J. Philip Parappally, the board's director of education, finally spoke on the issue this week and said he appreciated the statement and believes the board can "use this as an opportunity to learn and grow."

Wilfred Laurier Public School in Markham. (Shannon Martin/CBC)

While the board seems content to put it behind them and chalk it up to a learning experience, parents are grappling with sending their kids to a school where the principal exhibited terrible judgment about the information she chose to share.

This is not a freedom of expression issue. No one is saying that educators aren't entitled to hold contentious opinions.

Think what you want about the burqa, Islamist terrorism, or the influx of Syrian refugees. You would actually be hard-pressed to find Canadian Muslims who don't share some of your concerns.

Code of conduct

What does matter, however, is that educators — like so many others who work in positions of influence — are expected to adhere to a code of conduct that reflects and upholds the honour and dignity of their profession, both inside and outside of their workplaces. 

The case is somewhat similar to one at Richmond Hill Secondary School where a teacher was fired in September after a 10-week investigation into his social media posts (the main difference is there is no record of this teacher, Michael Marshall, making an apology).

In one Twitter post, Marshall wrote: "I'm sorry but sharia law is incompatible with my democratic secular nation. You can have it, but keep it over there in backward land." In another, he said: "I get sad when girls I teach decide to wear the hijab. I feel like a failure."

He went further yet: "Decided that I am way too racist to be a teacher."

That case, like this one, involved months of silent deliberation within the board, followed by a terse statement about reconciliatory action. And so it goes until the next complaint from a parent makes it into the press.

Keep parents involved

The York Region board now has an opportunity to show it takes allegations of professional misconduct and Islamophobia seriously. But to do that properly, it must keep parents and other community members involved in the process. If Sadaka is indeed to continue her role as principal of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the YRDSB owes the public more than a cursory explanation of why.

A pledge from the board to "learn and grow" sounds great, but considering the YRDSB has been investigating this for months, its administrators might want to take a moment to explain exactly what they've learned, and how it is we're supposed to grow.

This column is part of CBC's new Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shenaz Kermalli is a freelance writer and journalism instructor at Humber College in Toronto. Her work has been published in The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, the Ottawa Citizen, CTV News, The Guardian, Al Jazeera English, and Foreign Policy among others.

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