Mother sues Toronto school board, staff on leave in wake of ongoing bullying

Classroom of school
A file photo of a school classroom. (Getty Images)

A Toronto woman who went public in April with the story of her daughter’s ongoing bullying at school is seeing some results, with a $1-million lawsuit pending and two of the school’s top staff placed on leave.

According to the statement of claim filed at the Ontario Supreme Court of Justice, harassment and bullying at Glenview Senior Public School have impacted the girl’s quality of life and her performance in school.

“The pain, anxiety, stress, feelings of insecurity, and lack of safety at school made it difficult for G.G. to stay focused,” the statement says.

It goes on to say the girl suffered a possible concussion, lacerations and contusions, blurry vision in one eye, a loss of concentration and memory, scarring and experiences depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“As a result of the harassment, bullying and assaults, G.G. has suffered humiliation, loss of dignity, and serious damage to her self-confidence and self-worth,” the statement says. “She has indicated that at times she feels suicidal.”

The lawsuit charges the Toronto District School Board with failing to protect the girl throughout months of bullying.

In late April, Tarah Quansah shared images of her daughter, a black girl with a swollen and bloodshot eye, following a physical attack by a white male student at Glenview Senior Public School. The attack in late March had also left the girl with a bloodied nose, but Quansah alleges staff covered up that injury and attempted to downplay the injury to her daughter’s eye.

She said a staff member at the school had also failed to disclose to top school administrators that the bullying had gone back as far as November and included the use of intimidation, racial slurs and sexually inappropriate comments.

“If this had been a black little boy that did this to a white little girl there would be justice,” she said on Instagram.

Following backlash on social media, the school board admitted in a statement that racist and violent attacks had taken place at the school that there had been “gaps” in the way staff had handled them. It also acknowledged that anti-black racism exists within its schools, which serve 246,000 students, and that while it has policies in place for dealing with racism, staff failed to follow them in Genesis’s case.

It is now investigating those gaps, Ryan Bird, media relations manager for the board, told Yahoo Canada in an email.

“The aim of the investigation is to determine exactly what happened over a period of months so that we can gain a better understanding,” Bird said. “It’s being conducted by a third party investigator with expertise in human rights.”

In the meantime, school principal Mario Sirois and vice-principal Maryam Hasan have been placed on leave and the board says support staff have been put in place at the school to work with students and staff to hear their concerns.

‘Victim is re-victimized’

Darryl Singer, Quansah’s lawyer, told Yahoo Canada that prior to filing the lawsuit, he and the girl’s mother met with school administration and requested a plan that would guarantee minimal contact between the girl and her attacker.

Singer said the resulting plan involves the girl altering her arrival time at school and using a different entrance, while the boy who bullied her will continue to arrive at the usual scheduled time and entrance. The alternative is that the girl attends a different school, and Singer says either option will further victimize her.

“Although they gave us a safety plan, the safety plan they presented would have proposed additional hardship for my client without having added any additional hardship to the perpetrator,” Singer said.

“It wasn’t acceptable to my client because it would have made it more difficult for the girl.”

Singer said he has been contacted by two other families of Glenview students with similar complaints of bullying, and that the victims frequently feel pressure to change their behaviour or routines after being bullied.

“The way the school board deals with bullying is the victim is re-victimized and re-traumatized,” he said. “And this is the problem, the school board continually responds in this way.”

The lawsuit has not been tested in court, and the board has yet to release a statement of defence.