York school board slammed in report on racism, Islamophobia

By Tammie Sutherland

Dysfunction and a lack of leadership and accountability are just some of the findings in a report about the York Region District School Board.

The report was ordered after several parents raised concerns about incidents of discrimination, racism and Islamophobia which they said were not properly addressed by board members and staff.

The two investigators behind the report agreed.

“Systemic discrimination occurs mostly when people ignore issues that are right up in their faces,” said co-author Patrick Case.

“We’ve identified in the report a number of those areas that we feel were ignored.”

Investigators made 26 recommendations to deal with controversial issues, including reports of discrimination.

“There was a complete absence among board members of any appreciation of their obligation to take a strong, unequivocal stand against racism and intolerance,” the report said.

“Parents told us over and over again that they felt they were dismissed,” added report co-author Suzanne Herbert.

The review also found trustees who wanted to speak out stayed quiet in fear of retaliation.

Education Minister Mitzie Hunter ordered the report after two high-profile incidents — one involving a Markham principal who shared anti-Islam posts online and the other, Georgina school trustee Nancy Elgie using the N-word to refer to the mother of a black student.

It took weeks before Elgie resigned and no board members filed a code of conduct complaint.

“After reviewing the report, the observations included are profoundly troubling to me … in particular the ones involving marginalization and discrimination,” Hunter said.

Parents thanked Hunter for launching the review and said they’re happy with the recommendations, which include creating a human rights office within the board and asking the Ontario Human Rights Commission to monitor it.

The report also recommends staff members take governance training and a review on how senior staff is recruited.

It was revealed the director of education was in charge of his own appraisal process and was given a 10-year contract, which is unprecedented for Ontario school boards.

Board officials said in the days ahead, they will establish committees to deal with racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and Islamophobia.

Read the full report below or click here.

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