Top administrators at a Toronto middle school are on leave, and an investigation is underway into how staff handled accusations of prolonged racist bullying that culminated with a white boy allegedly punching a black girl in the face.
The Toronto District School Board placed the principal and vice-principal of Glenview Senior Public School on home assignment, beginning Monday. They will remain so throughout a board investigation looking into “gaps” in how procedures were followed.
“We do not tolerate racism,” the board’s director of education John Malloy told the Star on Tuesday. “We want to be sure that our staff understands that when racist actions or words are spoken or seen, and we want action to be taken.”
He says there were gaps in how this matter was handled — but what specifically unfolded is being investigated. The board has hired an outside investigator, with an expertise in human rights. Also, support staff have been placed at the Grades 7 and 8 school, located near Yonge St. and Lawrence Ave. W., to work with students and staff in addressing concerns and creating strategies.
“Regardless of what the investigation tells us, we understand why the family of the student is angry,” said Malloy. “As a system, we take responsibility to deal with issues such as this — racism (and) discrimination of all kinds — and we will continue to do our very best to not only end experiences such as this, but to support our staff to be effective when dealing with issues of racism and discrimination.”
In an interview with the Star, the 12-year-old girl’s mother said the board’s response has been “baffling” and “troubling.” She said she feels like the alleged perpetrator wasn’t dealt with appropriately and that sends the wrong message about dealing with anti-Black racism. She added that her daughter experienced “months and months of violent harassing, and taunting, and racism, anti-Black behaviour.”
The matter first garnered public attention earlier this month. That’s when the girl’s mother posted images on Instagram, of her daughter with a puffy red eye, following the alleged assault, which occurred in late March. In her postings, the mother says her daughter’s eye was swollen shut, and nose left bloodied after a classmate allegedly punched the girl in the face and hit her with a binder. She also says the boy had bullied her daughter since November, that he had used a racial slur and made a sexually inappropriate comment.
The mother says the guidance counsellor was aware of the racist bullying, but believes the school’s principal and vice-principal weren’t informed. In these instances, the board stipulates that staff immediately inform the principal, who then takes appropriate steps to work with the children and families involved.
In late March, the mother received a call after her daughter was allegedly punched in the face. In her posting, the mother says she was not immediately notified about the alleged assault and that the seriousness of the incident was downplayed.
“The school (vice principal) advised my daughter to put ice on her face first before they called as they knew how I would react to the incident,” she wrote on Instagram.
According to TDSB policy any hate-motivated violence must be immediately reported to police. The mother says she called police about the alleged assault.
On May 2, the frustrated mother posted what had happened on Instagram, which was widely circulated on social media. The following day, the school’s principal issued a letter to parents explaining what had transpired.
“A violent incident was dealt with by the school when it occurred in March and resulted in serious consequences,” wrote Principal Mario Sirois, who did not elaborate on what those consequences entailed.
“At that time, staff also became aware of an allegation of a past racist remark. The incident was addressed when it took place and concerns expressed by those involved continue to be taken seriously — as are all allegations of racism and bullying. The TDSB has clear policies and procedures that guide us when responding to incidents of violence or hate. In this specific case, there were gaps in how the procedures were followed and for that, we apologize.”
Last week, the child’s mother met with school and board officials and a safety plan for the girl was requested, which consists of ways to minimize contact between the girl and boy. This includes having their timetables rearranged and having them use different school doors.
Over the weekend, a dedicated Twitter account was created, demanding action of the TDSB in response to the anti-Black racist bullying. On Monday, the school’s administrators were placed on leave.
Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74