Some Jewish and Palestinian-Canadian parents say the Toronto District School Board hasn't done enough to protect students from anti-Palestinian racism amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
At a news conference on Wednesday, parents stood outside the school board's headquarters on Yonge Street to deliver demands they have for the TDSB, including the addition of anti-Palestinian racism to the board's equity policy and an assurance that students or staff won't be punished for supporting Palestinian human rights.
The most recent violence was sparked by the Oct. 7 cross-border attack on southern Israel by Hamas militants. According to the Israeli government, more than 1,400 people have been killed, mostly civilians during the incursion. At least 6,546 Palestinians have been killed in the ensuing war, the Health Ministry in Gaza said Wednesday.
Ben Losman, a Jewish parent, who said he was speaking on behalf of some Jewish families, said the TDSB's statements on the conflict have failed to address anti-Palestinian racism and the attacks on Gaza, though they do mention Islamophobia and antisemitism.
"By failing to address Israeli violence, Palestinian suffering and anti-Palestinian racism, the TDSB has harmed many of its students, staff and families," Losman said.
Ben Losman said the TDSB's statements on the conflict have failed to address anti-Palestinian racism, though they do mention Islamophobia and antisemitism. (Martin Trainor/CBC)
Nadine Nasir, who is Palestinian-Canadian and said at the news conference she represented other Palestinian-Canadian families, said she is concerned that her son wouldn't be comfortable saying he is Palestinian because of TDSB's communications on the conflict.
In three separate statements, the TDSB mentioned "terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians," "deadly attacks on Israel" and "terror attacks in Israel," she added. While the statements have acknowledged that Palestinian students and staff have been impacted by conflict in the region, they do not explicitly mention the Israeli airstrikes and siege on Gaza.
"Since October 10th, our group has been informed of numerous cases of anti Palestinian racism, discrimination, harassment and bullying in schools across Toronto," she said.
A TDSB spokesperson said they would not be able to retrieve information about such cases prior to publication.
Meanwhile, the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto says antisemitism in schools is a growing concern for Jewish families. Instances of antisemitism within the TDSB have been well documented in recent years, with anti-semitic graffiti being found at three schools in March 2022. Plus, Toronto police have reported a recent spike in hate crimes, with the majority being tied to antisemitism.
TDSB says it's focused on mental health
In a statement to CBC Toronto, a spokesperson for the TDSB said the school board is focused on mental health and wellbeing of students. It wants to ensure students and staff feel heard while preventing any form of hate "such as antisemitism or Islamophobia in our classrooms."
Kathy Bickmore, a professor in the University of Toronto's department of curriculum, teaching and learning, said while it's very challenging for schools to strike the right balance when handling such complex events, it's not impossible. (Alexis Raymon/CBC)
Meanwhile, Kathy Bickmore, a professor in the University of Toronto's department of curriculum, teaching and learning, said while it's very challenging for schools to strike the right balance when handling such complex events, it's not impossible.
She said at the most basic levels, schools need to create a climate of inclusion where people are comfortable with different opinions and know where they can access help.
When it comes to this conflict, she says having peer mediators or listening circles would help students discuss the issue.
But she also says teachers need a chance to learn how to handle these complicated topics in the classroom.
"Teachers get blamed when things go badly, but they often don't get a whole lot of support to do things well," she said.