3 TDSB employees put on home assignment after mother of boy alleges anti-Black racism

Faridah, a PhD student and mother to three children, says her six-year-old son was subjected to months of anti-Black racism at a Toronto school until an advocacy group intervened. (Submitted by Faridah - image credit)
Faridah, a PhD student and mother to three children, says her six-year-old son was subjected to months of anti-Black racism at a Toronto school until an advocacy group intervened. (Submitted by Faridah - image credit)

Three Toronto District School Board employees have been put on home assignment after a mother says her six-year-old son was subjected to months of anti-Black racism at a midtown school.

The advocacy group Parents of Black Children is accusing John Fisher Junior Public School of anti-Black racism after being contacted by the child's mother, who alleges her son was locked alone in a small room by the school's principal earlier this year.

The group is now calling for a provincewide framework and an inquiry into how school boards treat instances of reported racism.

But the Ontario Principals' Council says administrators at the school are facing "unwarranted public scrutiny" due to the accusations. It says it's confident an investigation would find this incident never happened, and is urging the school board to return the three employees at the earliest opportunity.

"I felt drained and confused, and you begin to doubt your child for no reason," the child's mother, Faridah, told CBC Toronto. "Up to that point I was dealing with this alone."

CBC News has agreed not to use Faridah's son's name or the pair's last name to protect her son's identity.

The group says the boy, who is the only Black student in his Grade 1 class, was sent to a "tiny room" for half an hour on Jan. 31 without direct supervision to prevent him from talking to another student — something Faridah says is documented on a hidden recording device she put on her son.

She says she was told by her son's teacher he was sent to the office for hitting another student, but says her son did not intentionally hit the child.

A recent immigrant and mother to two other children, Faridah says she sent her son to school with the hidden recording device to document what was happening to him after what she felt was a lack of progress in addressing her concerns.

CBC News was not granted access to that recording. Parents of Black Children say it is under review by their legal team as the group is exploring legal action against the board.

TDSB puts 3 employees on home assignment

The Toronto District School Board says staff learned about "reports of serious acts of anti-Black racism" at the school on Thursday. As a result of the allegations, the TDSB says it put three employees on home assignment pending an investigation.

Ryan Bird, the board's executive director of communications, told CBC Toronto those employees include the school's principal, vice principal and a teacher.

"No child should experience what has been reported and we apologize for the impact it has had on the student and their family," Bird said in a statement. "We are working to complete this investigation as soon as possible and will support the student and their family in any way we can."

But in a statement Wednesday, the Ontario Principals' Council said it was "troubled" by the board's choice to comment and apologize while an investigation is still underway.

The council also said it supports addressing and eliminating systemic racism, but has become "increasingly concerned about deliberately false narratives aimed at destroying the reputations and lives of dedicated educators."

The council did not indicate why it believed the accounts to be "false."

"We encourage the board and all parties to do everything in their power to ensure a fair, transparent and swift investigative process," the statement added.

Parents for Black Children also said Tuesday that two other parents have come forward citing similar experiences for their children at the same school, and it is looking into those reports.

Bird said the board hasn't formally been made aware of any other incidents, but "we would encourage anyone with concerns to please bring them to the attention of the acting principal at the school. We take all such reports seriously and will investigate further."

Submitted by Parents of Black Children
Submitted by Parents of Black Children

Parents of Black Children's chief advocacy officer, Charline Grant, says the board's response is an example of the "swift" action taken after her group became involved. Faridah says it's an outcome she believes she would have never seen if not for the group's advocacy.

Grant says 48 instances of racial harm toward the child have been documented, and many involve "adultifying" the boy and treating him as if he were older than he is, she said.

Those alleged examples include being seated away from his classmates, being told he didn't have the intelligence to learn and speak French, being sent outside of class to write apology letters for allegedly disrupting class and being accused of not displaying John Fisher school "values."

"She had evidence. She had all of this stuff. And I'm looking at her and I'm like, I don't even need to see all of this. I already believed you," said Grant.

Pushing for accountability

The group says it launched an advocacy framework Tuesday to respond to "push back" against what it says it sees in some school boards when called to respond to instances of racial violence in their schools.

It says reports about racism are often met with superintendents and administrators claiming not to have received emails from advocacy groups, insisting parents can only bring one advocate with them to a meeting, or refusing to hold staff or students accountable for racist acts.

Parents of Black Children says its framework lays out exactly what would be expected from both school boards and parents when it comes to addressing anti-Black, racist incidents in public schools. Without it, the group says, parents in instances like Faridah's are left to fend for themselves when school boards use "delay tactics" and "roadblocks" instead of pushing toward proper resolutions.

The framework calls for timely responses from staff, active engagement with parents and their advocates and readiness to find a solution to problems.

"We want them to know our children deserve a right to a peaceful education," Grant said. "It's when we don't get that, then we are forced to act accordingly."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.