TORONTO — Canada’s largest school board has moved away from communicating every hate- or racism-related incident to school communities after finding that letters about the cases could lead to further harm.
The changes in the Toronto District School Board procedures drew attention recently after two parents raised concerns about how an elementary school handled reports of hateful graffiti on site.
The parents, who are school council co-chairs at McMurrich Junior Public School, said they were “disheartened” when they heard from their children last week about swastikas drawn in a girls bathroom at the school.
Rachel Cooper and Livy Jacobs said the school principal and superintendent didn’t send an email to parents and other school community members about the incident, which they argue should have happened.
“As parents we need to have this information so we can appropriately guide our young children,” Jacobs said in an interview.
“These are elementary schoolchildren, and when they have to learn about something so vile … they should be properly provided guidance by their parents and teachers.”
Cooper said her daughter told her the principal made an announcement at school about graffiti found in the bathroom, but there was no letter sent to parents.
Cooper and Jacobs said other parents reached out to them and voiced concerns about the lack of communication from the school on the issue.
They said the school had handled a similar incident in 2019 differently when the principal sent an email to the school community informing them about the incident.
“The principal at that time had to deal with racial, antisemitic slurs and swastikas spray-painted on the exterior wall of our school and had to report it and call the police to deal with it,” Jacobs said.
“(The principal) wrote a very nice letter, like an informative letter to the parents describing the incident that has occurred, the steps that were taken, and reinforcing the inclusivity and programming that we have at the school, in the school community.”
TDSB spokesman Ryan Bird said the board decided more than a year ago to reduce the frequency of distributing letters to school communities because the communications often led to the “identification, surveillance, and stigmatization of the specific students who may have been involved.”
“These actions result in further harm to students and the overall school climate,” he wrote in an email.
“The TDSB has a responsibility to do all that we can to protect the privacy of the students involved while ensuring, parents, guardians and caregivers of the students involved are informed, appropriate consequences are enacted, and support is provided to the students or staff impacted by the incident.”
He said the board also found that communication about such incidents had the unintentional effect of prompting additional “copycat” incidents.
Bird said the board takes all allegations of hate and racism “very seriously.”
“After an act of racism or hate is reported in one of our schools, staff immediately support any impacted students, provide a learning opportunity where appropriate and begin an investigation,” he said.
“While each incident is looked at on a case-by-case basis, these incidents can lead to outcomes including suspensions according to TDSB procedures and the Education Act.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2023.