Black students allegedly locked in room at Toronto school: advocacy group

TORONTO — An advocacy group accused a Toronto elementary school of anti-Black racism Tuesday, pointing to allegations of two students being detained in an "isolation room" as the board said it was investigating what happened in at least one case.

The Parents of Black Children said it was first contacted weeks ago by the mother of a six-year-old Black child who attends John Fisher Junior Public School. The mother alleged her son had experienced dozens of racist incidents and microaggressions at the school.

"You could see him emotionally falling apart," she said in a pre-recorded message played at a press conference held by the organization. "He would come home crying and say, 'My head is going to explode. I'm not going to go to school. I hate school.'"

The mother said her son, who is in Grade 1, was sent to the principal's office on one occasion and was speaking to another student there when the principal allegedly told him he was being disruptive. She said that's when her child was allegedly brought to a closet-sized room and locked inside.

"I don't know how long he was there," the mother, identified by the advocacy group only as Faridah N. said in the pre-recorded message.

The Toronto District School Board said it first learned about "reports of serious acts of anti-Black racism at John Fisher" on Thursday.

The board said the school's principal, vice-principal and a teacher have all been put on home assignment as it investigates what happened.

"No child should experience what has been reported and we apologize for the impact it has had on the student and their family," spokesman Ryan 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."

The boy's mother said her son is still distressed about going to school.

"I believe action should be taken in order to ensure minorities don't experience this again in a school environment," she said.

Dozens of parents of students in the same classroom as Faridah's son came to the defence of the teacher placed on home assignment in a signed petition, which described him as an "extremely dedicated, attentive and caring teacher."

The petition said the parents recognize the seriousness of the allegations as well as the need for a full investigation, but demanded the board conduct it in a fair, timely fashion with input from all parents with children in the class.

"The teacher who has been placed on home assignment is a wonderful teacher as is attested by the fact that over 90 per cent of all parents in his class signed the petition," said Dhruv Jain, who has a daughter in the class.

"The majority of signatories to this petition are racialized parents and include Black parents as well," said Jain, who is also an organizer with the Elementary Teachers of Toronto, but was speaking as a concerned parent.

However, Charline Grant, co-founder of Parents of Black Children, said after the mother's story became public Monday, two other parents of Black children at the school came forward with allegations of racism, including that one of those children was detained in the "isolation room."

The students, aged four and five, are in different classrooms and the allegations in those cases have not yet been shared with the TDSB, she said.

Grant said she visited the school last week and saw the so-called "isolation room."

"I was floored because it was like a broom closet," she said, adding she couldn't fully stretch out her arms while inside.

"To me, this is irreparable damage and harm that has been done to these children."

Parents of Black Children is calling on the Ontario Human Rights Commission to launch a full inquiry into the experiences of Black children in the education system, she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2023.

Tyler Griffin, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version erroneously named the Elementary Teachers of Toronto union as the Ontario Teachers of Toronto.