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Former Student trustee responds to scathing review of allegations of racist behavior at HWDSB

Former Student trustee responds to scathing review of allegations of racist behavior at HWDSB

The former Hamilton Wentworth District School Board student trustee whose complaints of racism triggered an independent review of the Board’s practices, says there need to be direct sanctions against the board members who were found  by the investigators to have said some of the words that were attributed to them. Ahona Mehdi held a virtual news conference today in which she revealed the names of some of the trustees whose names were redacted in the report which was authored by Arlene Huggins and Philip Graham.

While expressing general satisfaction with the report, she said she had only been handed the report an hour before it was posted on the HWDSB website, whereas trustees had the report since December.

Mehdi charged that Trustee Alex Johnstone, who was board chair at the time, seemed intent on toning down the student trustee’s comments, particularly around the program where police maintained a presence in the schools. Mehdi had planned to introduce a motion to cancel the program completely and alleged that Johnstone asked her to edit out some references in the motion to her personal experience and eventually had the motion killed altogether on procedural grounds. Wrote the investigators: “It is a finding of this Report that the Complainant was, for the most part, subjected to efforts to silence her voice as a Trustee. Specifically, the Complainant faced censorship of her comments and questions in advance of the Safe Schools Panel Board meeting; including not being permitted to share her personal experiences with race-based bullying.”  

Anti BLM comments

One of the more controversial charges levelled by Ms. Mehdi was about remarks that took place during the debate on ending the police-in-schools program, where it was alleged three trustees made comments that she felt amounted to racial gaslighting. The debate took place in the immediate aftermath of the George Floyd murder.  The Investigator found that the trustee identified by Mehdi as Carol Paikin Miller had commented that the Board was focusing on anti-Black racism to the exclusion of anti- Semitism and Islamophobia, and that this focus was inequitable. The Investigator further found that Trustee 3, identified by Mehdi as Kathy Archer, commented that all student voices mattered, in a discussion where Black Lives Matter was being discussed and that the report brought by HWDSB staff did not capture the voices of all students. The investigator found that Trustee 2, identified by Mehdi as Becky Buck, used the term “Twitter trolls” in reference to community advocates, and commented that the positive aspects of the police program have been overshadowed by a few bad interactions. Commenting, the author wrote, “the Investigator finds that the Trustees knew or ought to have known that their comments were not only insensitive but expressions of anti-Black racism.” In regard to trustee Paikin Miller the investigator commented further. “On a balance of probabilities, the Investigator finds that Trustee 4 made overtly anti-Muslim and racist remarks in conversation with other Trustees. Furthermore, that Trustee 4 displayed a problematic attitude towards equity issues in Board and committee meetings.”

The report also touched on an allegation that a trustee had used the “n” word but this could not be independently confirmed.

In its findings the Investigator revealed an overriding culture where the goal appeared to be to head off any controversial topics before they reached an open board session. The practice saw the chair fielding controversial comments and questions, even from fellow trustees, and attempting to resolve them with staff off-line.

The investigation also suggested some division on the board between those who approved of the advocacy attempts by Ahona Mehdi and those who did not, in that she had support from some trustees for her motion to remove police from schools before the motion was  ruled inadmissible.

Former Chair comments

Trustee Alex Johnson, who stepped down as chair in December, offered this comment to the Bay Observer Thursday:

“All Board Trustees have a responsibility to use their positions to support a safe and encouraging environment for their peers and the students in our region. In my time as chair, I worked hard to do this, but I understand that a former student trustee had a negative experience while on the school board. Having seen the findings of the report, I understand now how the absence of an equity-informed understanding of board policy and governance created biases and systemic barriers. For this I am truly sorry.”

“I fully support the recommendations made by the investigator to address the training and governing practices, and to create a more supportive and equitable environment.”

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  • Alex Johnson’s statement is a word salad if in fact she used abuse to stop a motion. Empty words, really.

    The other three women are bullies. Twitter trolls, well that woman must spend a lot of time on Twitter so in fact calling the pot black without addressing her own bad behaviors and opinions.

    All of these women are insecure people, who engage in histrionics, to manipulation their own agenda which is against the definition of democracy, where all voices are equal and to be heard.

    Sad state of affairs really!

    Vote these women out do they can never again be in a position of power. They dont plsy nice.

  • I think it is worth remembering that this collection of scholars-despite having years to find a solution-remain wholly unable to provide reliable transportation to it’s student body.

    But they are going to eradicate racism?

    You’ll have to excuse my pessimism.

    Sadly, I believe Mehdi has been corrupted, I do not find her credible or genuine. The balance of her allegations are completely unfounded.
    Too bad.

  • Well Mr Graham, given the articles here and the cbc the message is that Ms Medhi’s experience has largely been documented as true.

    I feel Ms Medhi is a passionate young woman who endured a difficult situation. I feel your use of the word corrupted indicates that you disagree with her concept of ending the police liaison program. That is your opinion.

    So while I can see that you agree with the overall greater problem at HWDSB in terms of their inability to function , we can agree to disagree with personal views of Ms Medhi’s experience.

    I feel the four women identified in the cbc article are the ones who are corrupted and are unfit to hold positions of power. It reminds me of another individual who works for the city who is in my opinion is largely unqualified, obsequious individual who suppresses and uses the words, you dont respect me when you bring forward real life experiences that are not in line with his demented view. This person is unelected, only appointed because of the master he serves, not what is needed for greater change in the larger community.

    What I’m saying is the individuals who fall into low income catagory are not really heard, the current system which we define as the shelter health clinic network is reactive not proactive. It still holds nuances of the concept of the workhouses. Large amount of resources are spent to ensure there is no real change and those who step forward to enact change are always put in a bad light.

    Humanity needs to change, for us all to move forward.

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