Ontario Principals Council defends staff at Toronto middle school accused of racism

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An organization representing staff accused of anti-Black racism at a Toronto elementary school is “confident” some of the allegations are false and warned against “destroying the reputations and lives of dedicated educators” before an investigation is complete.

The comments from the Ontario Principals Council came a day after the Parents of Black Children advocacy group said it received reports from two parents of Black students at John Fisher Public School, which alleged the children were detained in a small “isolation room” in separate occasions.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the council said it is confident evidence will show a Black student at the centre of the initial Toronto District School Board investigation was never placed or locked in a small room, as his mother alleged.

“We have become increasingly concerned about deliberately false narratives aimed at destroying the reputations and lives of dedicated educators,” the council’s statement said.

“We are confident that once this incident is thoroughly investigated, the evidence will show that the student in question was never placed in the room depicted in the media reports, let alone with a closed or locked door.”

The Parents of Black Children organization said it was first contacted weeks ago by the mother of a six-year-old Black child who attends the school.

The mother alleged 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.

The board said it first learned about reports of serious anti-Black racism at the school last week and its 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, TDSB spokesman Ryan Bird said Tuesday.

The council, which represents more than 5,400 principals and vice-principals in the province’s public middle and high schools, said it is troubled by the school board’s decision to issue an apology before the investigation is complete.

It also raised concerns about what it called “the unfair, inequitable and damaging practice” of placing principals and vice-principals on home assignment before unproven allegations are tested.

“We urge the TDSB to return these educators to their school at the earliest opportunity,” the council wrote.

“The educators involved in this case … are not allowed to comment publicly while the matter is being investigated, making the one-sided media coverage especially difficult and distressing,” it added.

In response to the council’s statement, Bird said the board has no option but to take the reports very seriously.

“While we recognize the impact these steps have on the students, staff and families involved, we are working to investigate as soon as possible and take the necessary time to fully understand what occurred which includes hearing from the staff involved,” he said Wednesday.

Dozens of parents have come 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.”

However, Parents of Black Children has said after the initial story became public Monday, two other parents of children at the school came forward with allegations of anti-Black racism, including that one of those children was detained in the “isolation room.”

The advocacy group has called on the Ontario Human Rights Commission to launch a full inquiry into the experiences of Black children in the education system.

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