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HWDSB asks province for assistance in racism probe

The Director of the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board says he has taken steps to initiate a third-party review of allegations of racism by school board trustees. Manny Figueiredo says he has reached out to the Ministry of Education and has contacted the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate for assistance in selecting a method of conducting the investigation that will satisfy all involved. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, he said trustees found to  have engaged in racist statements or actions could face censure or exclusion from Board committees.

The actions were taken after Ahona Medhi, a student trustee whose term has just ended tweeted out a series of allegations of racism by school trustees. In a news conference outside HWDSB headquarters this morning, former student trustee Ahona Mehdi described  racist remarks by Board Trustees. She was joined by several young people who also said they had experienced a climate of racism. Mehdi repeated some of the allegations she made in  her twitter chain yesterday wherein she called out the HWDSB for, in her words being “  a disgustingly racist & oppressive institution” citing as examples–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.“ Said Mehdi today “It is not my obligation to publicly name the trustees at this time, but they also know exactly who they are,” adding that in each incident she described there was at least one other trustee present. “The HWDSB Chair can claim that racism will not be tolerated, but it has been—time and time again,” Mehdi said, adding, “The very people preaching about intolerance, have never failed to perpetuate it.”

2017-2018 student trustee Ruby Hye said she felt tokenized during her term. “My role was tokenistic, my voice was nothing more than an image for them, it was for the process of having a brown face on their media thing. “She went on. “Board Chair Alex Johnstone wrote in response to Ahona’s thread that racism and oppression will not be tolerated but what does it say…when a trustee can get away with saying the “N” word at a trustee dinner and nobody says anything about it?”

Ms. Mehdi called for student involvement in any anti-racism training board members and staff may receive, for a completely transparent process in the selection of the investigators who will look into the issues she raised, and the “impeachment” of trustees found to have engaged in racist actions.

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