How should a teacher help young students learn about “personal space”?
Not with masking tape and segregation, according to an outraged Brampton mother who was shocked by what she saw when she went to her six-year-old son Anelka’s parent-teacher night recently at Brisdale Public School in Brampton.
“He sits at a round desk with three other children. His side of the desk was sectioned off in a pie-shape with masking tape. The second thing I noticed was tape used to make a box on the ground, and that was for my son.” said Colene Edwards.
Anelka’s mom says she was told by the long-term supply teacher that it was to teach her son about personal space. “She said he was getting into other kids personal space, and he was so big and tall and his arms are long, that he needed this box on the ground and the pie shape on his desk. I asked her ‘Where do the other children play?’ She said, ‘They go around the classroom.’ I said, ‘Can they leave freely?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Where does my son stay?’ She said, ‘He stays in the box.’”
Edwards says for weeks she noticed her son would keep his elbows tucked close to his sides when at home: “I would play around with him, and say, ‘Let go of your arms,’ and he wouldn’t. I know why now, he had that pie shape on his desk and he wasn’t supposed to go out that pie shape.”
Almost from the first day of school Edwards says she had phone calls from the teacher about how “big and awkward” her son was.
“He’s taller than most kids his age, about four-foot-two, and she said to me over and over again how big he was.”
There had been at least one incident where his arm accidentally hit a child during a play session, but Edwards says: “He is not a child who beats up on other children. He is not a child that misbehaves. He is like any six year old boy, he gets excited sometimes.”
Edwards is heartbroken that her son was singled out like this for some time. “To think that my son has been treated for weeks like this without me knowing. He never complained because to him it’s the norm. The box is the norm. She had him convinced this is normal for him to be in this box.”
Edwards complained to the principal, who she says was disturbed by what she told him. “The principal had no idea, no idea that this teacher was doing this.”
Edwards reached out with her story after a CityNews investigation last week into the Peel Region School Boards action plan to enrich the education experience of black male students. “I couldn’t believe the report you did. The students were older but the one thing they have in common with my son is they are black. We are not looking for special treatment, we just want to be treated fairly. Anelka is the only black student in his classroom and he was segregated from other students”.
The Peel District School Board has completed an investigation. When asked if race was a factor, they said in a statement: “It was determined that this was specifically an issue related to communication with the family and the strategy used. Nothing further was found in the investigation”
Of the masking tape on the floor and desk, the board says: “This would not be a strategy the board would recommend. We want every student to feel safe, welcomed and included.”
The board won’t comment on whether the teacher has been disciplined, but Anelka has been transferred to another classroom.
“He’s happy, but at the same time, he knows it’s because of the “box situation” that he is no longer in her class and he is trying to adjust. He is in a new class with new children. “
The school says it has since removed the masking tape on the floor and the desk.