The Toronto District School Board’s panicked handling of a fight between two Grade 7 students has left their school, so good it’s known internationally as the public equivalent of a posh private school, near ruin.
At last count, eight school staff — senior administrators and teachers — at Glenview Senior Public School have been put on “home assignment” or “administrative leave,” interchangeable terms the school board uses for temporary paid suspensions.
An additional six staff are on personal or stress leave.
TDSB spokesman Ryan Bird confirmed the numbers this week.
The suspensions came about either directly as a result of the fight itself or indirectly because, in the wake of the suspensions of the principal and vice-principal, the school was essentially left rudderless for the final two months of the academic year.
With a rotating cast of principals and other administrators temporarily at the helm, the favoured option for resolving conflicts between students and those between parents and staff quickly became “sentence first, verdict afterwards” in the infamous language of Alice in Wonderland.
But what happened at this midtown Toronto public school is not a fairy tale; it’s a cautionary story of a school board that has collapsed under the weight of its own political correctness.
To recap the fight: On March 27, a 12-year-old boy was allegedly chased around a classroom by a 12-year-old girl he’d been making faces at as she gave a presentation. At some point, he unsuccessfully threw a chair to block her. She allegedly swung at him but missed; he swung back and connected, leaving her with a bloodshot swollen eye and a nosebleed.
The boy was subsequently suspended for five days.
But while unusual in that the spat became physical, the confrontation was otherwise par for the course at a busy middle school filled with 800 hormonal adolescents in grades 7 and 8.
As Mariam Racko, a longtime former guidance counsellor at Glenview says with a wry grin, in the time it takes to walk the length of the hall, on any given day, students may complain about being pushed, ignored, “looked at” the wrong way, harassed or teased.
And from such ordinary clashes does a good teacher or principal, she adds, find the stuff of important lessons.
“We try to demonstrate how to be the best possible human being,” says Racko. This may mean directing students to apologize to the offended party, or simply to make the effort to see an incident, and the other person involved, “through newly educated eyes.”
Racko officially retired in 2017 but still worked as a supply teacher through this year. The situation at Glenview, she told the Post, where board officials allowed their senior staff to be shrieked at and degraded, has left her terribly sad.
“To me,” she said, “it’s shocking. I mourn the loss of that fantastic organization (the school board).”
What made the encounter especially tricky for a school board that prides itself on its correct, equity-driven practices was that the boy is white and the girl is black.
The girl’s mother is suing the board for $1.5 million, alleging the TDSB knew the girl had “been the target of bullying, harassment and assaults by a specific White student” and “racist verbal attacks,” and failed to protect her.
But the girl involved came to Glenview with some baggage of her own: She’d been twice suspended at Glen Park elementary school, once for bullying a boy about his sexuality and allegedly using a homophobic and anti-Semitic slur, according to the boy’s parents.
More important is that the girl’s mother, whom the National Post is identifying only as T.Q., had earned a reputation at the school as a terrifying force.
The Post attempted to interview T.Q., and initially, she agreed.
But on the advice of her lawyer, Darryl Singer of the Diamond and Diamond firm, she changed her mind. Given a detailed list of questions I wanted to ask the mother, Singer replied this week by email. “The questions raise issues that are now before the court and my client will address those matters through litigation.”
T.Q.’s statement of claim against the TDSB was filed last month in Ontario Superior Court. The school board has responded by filing a notice of an “intent to defend” the suit, but no other documents.
The Post tried for comment from suspended principal Mario Sirois and suspended vice-principal Maryam Hasan. Both declined. However, on condition of anonymity (they fear reprisals) the Post was able to interview 10 sources close to the events at Glenview and Glen Park.
What emerged are allegations that paint a portrait of T.Q. as an almost cartoonishly aggressive parent.
On June 3, she came raging into Glen Park, offended at a relatively innocuous social media post by the parent of a child allegedly bullied by her daughter when she was at the school last year.
The Post has heard an audio recording of a woman who appears to be T.Q. shouting at a school official that day: “It’s not f—ing hearsay, you retard!”
A month earlier, the incident at Glenview came to public light when, just hours after T.Q. did an extensive interview with Desmond Cole on Toronto radio station Newstalk 1010 on Mother’s Day, the board abruptly informed Sirois, Hasan and a guidance counsellor (not Racko, who worked only in a supply capacity this year) they were being put on home assignment.
About the same time, T.Q. took to social media, and soon, a Twitter handle, WeGotYouBabySis, sprung up in support of the family, with crude descriptions of various TDSB officials made anonymously.
Sirois, who is white, was identified as “Principal—most likely to think he’s massa”; Hasan, who is a Muslim, was labelled “Vice-Principal-Misognyoiristic”; a black TSDB principal, Courtney Lewis, was called “Courtney Coonin’ Lewis.”
The Twitter flurry and press about Glenview prompted the Facebook post that, in turn, prompted T.Q. to descend on Glen Park.
As she ranted at full volume in the Glen Park halls that day, one source says that a teacher was so troubled by what she was hearing she initiated a lockdown, barricading her young students in a classroom.
Three years ago, Glen Park issued a trespass order against T.Q., which prohibited her from the school grounds.
Ironically, Glenview was about to do the same thing when the furor erupted in May.
That’s because T.Q. had also come to Glenview on April 30 in search of the boy who had hit her daughter – actually bursting into the gymnasium, looking for him, and thoroughly alarming staff.
Someone later posted audio of part of the confrontation between the alleged shouting mother and a teacher on social media; the Post has heard this footage.
On May 6 there was a meeting at Glenview, which foretold the tale of all that was to come.
By then, Sirois had already apologized for gaps in procedure — there had been two earlier incidents between the boy and T.Q.’s daughter, one in November and one in December.
In one, the boy was accused of saying he didn’t like the girl’s “N—— hair.” He denied using the N-word, and the guidance counsellor believed she had brokered a peace between the two kids (and indeed, there were no further clashes until March 27).
But the alleged racial slur should have been reported to Sirois or Hasan, as well as T.Q. Those were the “gaps” for which Sirois apologized in an email to Glenview parents; he also acknowledged that anti-Black racism of course exists at Glenview, as it does elsewhere.
TDSB director John Malloy had also apologized in a letter home to parents and teachers, and reminded staff of their obligations to report and address racism.
Still, at the meeting May 6, in addition to Sirois, Hasan and Lewis — a rotating principal, brought in to help ease the crisis — were an executive superintendent (she is now on leave), a local superintendent and a board lawyer.
T.Q. brought along her lawyer Singer, her mother, both her daughters, and three supporters who didn’t identify themselves when asked, but who were, the Post has learned, local black activists including the former co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, Yusra Khogali.
Khogali didn’t respond to the Post’s email, asking why she was present.
The activists swiftly took charge. According to sources, there was no conversation, just yelling. The superintendents were drowned out and made little effort to defend their staff.
When, for instance, Sirois protested he was uncomfortable, someone snapped, “Let him be uncomfortable in his whiteness!” Hasan was told, “You should be fired!” When Lewis attempted to calm things down, he was derided as “the black mouthpiece.”
The children ended up in tears.
Shortly afterward, with Sirois, Hasan and the guidance counsellor on home assignment, the TDSB agreed to pay for T.Q.’s daughter to take an Uber to and from Glenview, stopping on the way home to pick up her sister at Glen Park.
(Board spokesman Bird said the TDSB is unable to comment on this “to ensure student privacy.”)
The board has also hired Neil Edwards and Amelia Golden to investigate … something.
Several sources have told the Post that there are no formal allegations against Sirois and Hasan, which makes it difficult to know what, precisely, they are investigating.
Asked that question, Edwards told the Post in an email this week it would be “highly inappropriate” to comment on an ongoing investigation.
Neither did he answer why he allegedly asked the 12-year-old boy, the one who hit T.Q.’s daughter, “Do you have any black friends?” Edwards specified that he meant black, not South Asian or any other race.
When the boy gave him a name, Edwards reportedly asked, “Do you have any others?”
And this is what it has come to at the largest school board in Canada, where once, two kids who didn’t like each other had a fight, and then the adults took over.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019