CanadaMother sues TDSB alleging daughter subjected to racist bullying
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More complaints are surfacing about bullying at a northeast Calgary school already dealing with a bullying crisis following the suicide of one of its young students. Nine-year-old Syrian refugee Amal Alshteiwi took her own life in March after her parents say she was bullied for months. Amal's parents, who don't speak English, struggled to raise the alarm about their daughter's bullying. But they say their requests for help were ignored by school officials who should have recognized and addressed what was happening.
The mother of a Black girl, who was allegedly punched in the face by a white boy after months of “racist, sexist bullying” and “threats of physical violence,” is suing the Toronto District School Board, saying it failed to protect her daughter.
In a statement of claim filed this week in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Tara Quansah alleges Glenview Senior Public School — a middle school near Yonge St. and Lawrence Ave. W. — was first made aware in November that her daughter was being bullied by a classmate.
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“The (boy) threatened (the girl) while at school, stating that he was ‘going to get her,’ and made racial slurs and crude anti-Black and sexually subjugating comments,” according to the statement of claim. It says the girl reported the “verbal assaults and threats” to a guidance counsellor and that the school took no action.
None of the allegations have been tested in court and the board has not yet filed a statement of defence.
“As the incidents are still being investigated, we’re not in a position to comment on the specific allegations,” said board spokesperson Ryan Bird.
In an interview with the Star on Tuesday, director of education John Malloy said there were gaps in how procedures were followed in this case. The school’s principal and vice-principal are currently on leave as the board investigates how the matter was handled. Malloy said racism is not tolerated, noting staff are supposed to report it immediately.
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“Whether we’re talking about homophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Black racism …We need our staff to understand that when they see it and hear it, (they) report it immediately,” Malloy said. “That’s our commitment going forward.”
Lawyer Darryl Singer, who is representing Quansah and her daughter, told the Star the school has a legal obligation to protect students once it becomes aware of safety or racism issues. Even though there is a safe schools policy, a zero-tolerance policy on bullying and physical aggression, and an anti-racism policy, no one at the school took action to protect the girl, according to the lawsuit, which is seeking $1 million in damages.
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In the statement of claim, Quansah alleges the harassment continued throughout the winter and that she and her 12-year-old daughter — who is identified in the lawsuit by her initials — advised the school on “multiple occasions” about what was going on and that “the bullying was in the form of anti-Black comments.” She claims the school’s attempt at resolving the issue was to have the girl take responsibility for what they termed “her role in the back and forth.”
In late March, according to the lawsuit, the boy allegedly hit the girl in the face with a binder, resulting in a nosebleed. She started to defend herself” — but before she could do so, the boy allegedly “punched her in the face.”
The statement of claim says the school took no action against the boy until the mother called police. It also says the school wanted to suspend the girl for what they termed “her part in the altercation.” Sources have told the Star the boy was suspended, though the board would not confirm this.
The mother alleges in the lawsuit that the continued bullying resulted in her daughter’s grades dropping because the “pain, anxiety, stress, feelings of insecurity, and lack of safety at school” made it difficult for her to focus. And, the girl’s injuries — she missed two weeks of classes after the alleged assault — include possible concussion, lacerations and contusions, blurry vision in one eye, a loss of concentration and memory, scarring, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the statement of claim.
“The (girl) has suffered humiliation, loss of dignity, and serious damage to her self-confidence and self-worth,” according to the statement of claim.
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Earlier this month, the mother posted about the incident on social media, which was widely circulated. Afterwards, principal Mario Sirois sent a letter home to parents of students in the school explaining “the violent incident” was dealt with after it occurred in March and “resulted in serious consequences” and that “at that time staff also became aware of an allegation of a past racist remark.” Sirois also apologized for gaps in how procedures were followed.
Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter:
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The Calgary Board of Education continues to offer few details of a promised independent review into bullying at its schools, as more complaints and stories from concerned parents continue to surface. Several parents have shared disturbing stories of bullying at Calgary elementary schools and what they see as apathy and inaction by both the schools concerned and the school board. The worst case involved nine-year-old Amal Alshteiwi, who took her own life at home after sustained bullying at her northeast elementary school.
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