Three staff at a Toronto elementary school are under investigation after a six-year-old Black student was allegedly separated from his peers and locked in a closet-sized room in January.
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) confirmed Monday that staff learned of reports of “serious acts of anti-Black racism at John Fisher Junior Public School” last week and that, as a result, a principal, vice-principal, and teacher have been removed from the property and placed on home assignment.
“It’s emotional, it’s unbelievable,” the child’s mother, Faridah, told CTV Toronto Monday. Her last name is being omitted to protect the identity of the child.
Faridah is alleging dozens of instances of racist behaviour toward her and her son at the midtown school leading up to the January incident when she says her son was locked in a closet-sized room for 30 minutes.
In a written statement issued Monday, TDSB said it is working to investigate the reports as soon as possible and is committed to taking “the required steps on each action reported.”
John Fisher Public School. (CTV News Toronto)
According to Faridah, at some point during the school day on Jan. 31, her son was sent to the office. As her son waited in the office, another student arrived in need of medical treatment, she says.
The boy and the student in need of medical treatment knew one another and she says her son asked what had happened.
“That’s when he’s told that he’s being distracting, and [was] led to the room, and locked in the room,” she said.
A photo of the room in question, taken by Charline Grant, co-founder of Toronto-based advocacy group Parents of Black Children, shows a rack of audio-visual equipment, a microphone stand, and a small desk.
“I went in the room and I locked the door ’cause I wanted to have a feel of how tiny it is,” Grant said. “I can’t even stretch my arms out, that’s how tiny it is.”
“For me, it felt and looks like, imprisonment, solitary confinement, and it’s cruel and unusual punishment,” she said.
Faridah says her son, 6, was locked in a room at a Toronto school for 30 minutes. (Handout by Parents of Black Children)
While visiting the school, Grant says the school’s principal disputed the child’s version of the events, instead suggesting that he was told to sit at the desk after it had been pulled out of the room, and that he was never locked in.
Grant and Parents of Black Children are demanding answers, and “just so you know, we believe the child,” Grant said.
Faridah also alleges that her son, who she says is the only Black boy in his Grade 1 class, has been made to sit at a desk covered in scribbled unpleasant words, separated from his peers, during lessons.
“I go to the class, [and] I find out my son sits alone in the corner,” she said. “And then I asked the teacher why, [and] they said because he’s very distracting to other kids.”
The desk covered in profanities that Faridah says her son, 6, was made to sit in, separated from his peers, can be seen above. (Handout by Parents of Black Children)
In its written statement, TDSB offered an apology for the impact the alleged events have had on Faridah and her son.
“No child should experience what has been reported and we apologize for the impact it has had on the student and their family,” it said. “We are currently investigating and are committed to taking the required steps on each action reported to us. We […] will support the student and their family in any way we can.”
Meanwhile, Faridah says her son is still anxious to go to school.
“It’s going to take a lot of time for my son to trust the school system again,” she said.
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