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Toronto teacher accused of making racist remark to black student

Last Updated Dec 5, 2017 at 6:46 pm EDT

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is investigating a disturbing comment allegedly made by a substitute teacher at a Scarborough elementary school last week.

Abigail Francis, whose son attends sixth grade at Norman Cook Public School, says 11-year-old Isaiah came home upset last Tuesday after he was asked to do a poetry assignment titled All the Places We Love. “Isaiah wanted clarity on the question and the teacher responded, ‘It’s like home sweet home, or for you, in a dark alleyway like a crackhead,’ ” claims Francis.

She believes the comment was racially motivated, given that her son is one of only two black students in the class. She says after the incident, another student who overheard the interaction approached Isaiah. “He spoke out to say it was racist, and he said, ‘Isaiah, if I had gone up there, he wouldn’t have said anything because I’m white. And you shouldn’t take that.’ “

Francis says the young student and a handful of others who had heard the comment accompanied Isaiah to the principal’s office to make a complaint against the teacher.

In a statement, the TDSB tells CityNews the teacher has now been put on home assignment pending the outcome of an investigation. “If the allegation is founded, it is completely unacceptable and goes against the considerable work the TDSB is doing to combat racism, bias and oppression,” writes TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird. “We are committed to ensuring every student feels valued everyday by the staff in our schools.”

This year, the board conducted an Equity Task Force, with a draft report recommending anti-racism training for staff, and more diverse hiring. The recommendations are set to be voted on by trustees next Wednesday.

While Francis believes the matter is being dealt with appropriately, she still hasn’t been able to find out the name of the teacher, and says she was told it’s unlikely the board will publicize the repercussions he’ll face if the allegations are founded.

“I find a lack of transparency in that,” says Francis. “I think it’s important for parents, and taxpayers who are paying this man, to have an understanding of what occurs when a teacher violates the code of conduct and violates a child’s dignity.“

Francis says she also wants the teacher to be required to complete sensitivity training and to apologize to her son and the rest of the class. She says the students who spoke up should be commended for their actions.

“They came together and stood up for my son and that positive behaviour should be reinforced by the school.”

The TDSB confirms the school is working on having the appropriate staff in place to have a discussion in the classroom about the incident.