A third party review commissioned by the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board has validated some of the claims of improper behaviour raised by a former student Trustee. The probe was ordered after Ahona Mehdi, a grade 12 Westmount student tweeted a series of posts last summer that read in part; I’m beyond grateful to no longer serve as the board’s token for student voice & diversity. The HWDSB is a disgustingly racist & oppressive institution that serves the interest, success & well-being of white, straight, able-bodied, cis-gender staff & students. I’m beyond disturbed to have attended HWDSB schools for 14 years – but I’m ready to unlearn & call them out.”
She went on to allege examples of racist behavior: “White Trustee using the n-word in reference to Serena Williams. White Trustee claiming that there is “too much Black leadership” in our extremely anti-Black school board. White Trustee claiming that Arabs/Muslims are evil & that we shouldn’t waste our time/breath discussing such hopeless people. White Trustees/Staff consistently encouraging me (a Brown female) to operate more like my co-Student -Trustee (a white male). White Trustee shaming me (a brown girl) for not wearing a Christmas sweater to a Board meeting.- Being silenced, lectured, called aggressive & told to trust the expertise of white Staff when wanting to discuss an anti-oppressive/anti-racist lens for the Safe Schools Panel.”
Arleen Huggins, Partner and Philip Graham, Associate at Koskie Minsky LLP went through the allegations in a 67-page report that validated many of the allegations. The report painted a picture of a trustee who was controlling in dealing with a young Muslim student trustee who chose to outspoken in calling out discrimination in the school system. The report detailed efforts made to restrain the young trustee in her comments at board meetings. In particular the report detailed how Mehdi’s attempt to introduce a motion calling for the termination of the Police presence in schools, was sandbagged on procedural grounds. The consultant was unable to substantiate the use of the “n” work in reference to Serena Williams as was alleged. But the report cast an instructive light on a board whose culture seemed to value avoiding public displays of disagreement and maintaining decorum over robust debate.