Questions mount after PDSB bans parent who protested against anti-Black racism
Parents who have been vocal in their criticism of Peel District School Board’s handling of race-based issues say they’re being muzzled by the board for speaking out and community members, including trustees, want to know what process was followed when deciding to ban a parent from all PDSB properties.
The continued inaction of the school board to address concerns over anti-Black racism to the satisfaction of many parents has led to a combustible situation at recent school board meetings.
On Feb. 25, the PDSB’s trustees adjourned its public meeting and headed into private chambers after protests from some members of the audience. Board Chair Brad MacDonald also intervened, directing PDSB staff to call police to clear the meeting room. MacDonald on Tuesday evening, at the latest board meeting, apologized for the decision.
Idris Orughu has been banned from all PDSB properties until the end of the school year
On Monday, a day before the meeting, Idris Orughu, a parent and one of the most vocal critics of the school board’s record on discriminatory practices, received a letter from PDSB Director Peter Joshua.
In the letter, Joshua informs Orughu, who has several relatives attending Peel schools though is not a parent of a student, that he is barred from setting foot on PDSB property and attending future school board meetings until the end of the 2019-20 school year because of separate instances of “improper conduct” as well as “harassing and threatening comments” he is alleged to have made towards Peel trustees.
“Please be advised that you are not to attend on any property of the Board, including all schools and administrative offices, for any purposes whatsoever,” Joshua’s letter reads, before citing specific provincial bylaws Orughu is alleged to have violated.
The letter, which was provided to The Pointer, then goes onto inform Orughu that violating the ban could result in police being called to remove him from Peel school board premises, along with the possibility of a longer ban.
“If you refuse, the police will be contacted and requested to remove you from the property,” states the letter which is also cc’d to “Peel Regional Police”.
Questions are now being raised about the board’s allegations and how it decided on such a heavy-handed response against parents.
On Tuesday, Black parents and supporters held a silent protest at the PDSB meeting
Orughu strongly denies engaging in different instances of harassment towards PDSB officials, which according to the letter took place at the Feb. 11 and Feb. 25 board meetings in Mississauga. He feels he has been singled out for continual criticism of the board.
“I have been at the forefront issue of this, and been a pain for the board,” said Orughu, who added that he has provided testimony to Assistant Deputy Education Minister Patrick Case as well as Education Minister Stephen Lecce as part of the province’s unprecedented review of the anti-Black racism allegations against the board. “I have called [the board] out for not doing any kind of engagement [with Black parents].”
The letter doesn’t mention the specific comments allegedly made by Orughu which resulted in the ban.
The board’s leadership has come up for heavy criticism following instances involving Black students and the community in general, with the board resorting to police intervention. A public backlash against allegedly discriminatory conduct by the board led to the provincial review by the Ministry of Education to determine if there’s a history of discrimination toward Black students, parents and educators.
The review, which was led by Case along with two other panel members, is set to be released to the public and could have sweeping recommendations and implications for the school board.
One of the incidents that upset community members was the handcuffing of a six-year-old Mississauga student’s hands and feet behind her back after her school staff called police in response to unruly behaviour. A ruling on the incident announced by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario two weeks ago concluded the conduct of two uniformed police officers in dealing with a violently behaving child, who is Black, was in part motivated by her race.
Parents were also outraged last fall when a school trustee, the subject of complaints for racialized and demeaning comments allegedly made in reference to the largely Black student population at McCrimmon Middle School in Brampton, was cleared of any wrongdoing by the PDSB’s integrity commissioner, after he referred to the school as “McCriminal."
Last year the board’s own head of equity and inclusion, Poleen Grewal, filed a damning complaint against PDSB and Joshua with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, alleging entrenched anti-Black racism, discrimination toward her and reprisals for speaking out.
Orughu’s conduct and the harsh trespass order against him is the latest controversial issue facing the board, with many questions swirling about its decision to ban him from board property including schools till the end of the educational year.
Reviewing the audio recording of the Feb. 11 meeting, there is an instance where during the public questioning period toward the end of the meeting where Orughu asks the board a pointed question in regard to Black students who he claims were not allowed to participate in the provincial review during a “community engagement” session.
PDSB chair Brad MacDonald
MacDonald, presiding as chair, rules the question out of order on the grounds the matter shouldn’t be discussed in public since it could implicate an unnamed school official. Orughu objects and then calls out Green, whom he claims has made a “dismissive gesture” in his direction. Green then sternly rebukes Orughu.
PDSB vice-chair David Green
After a brief exchange, Orughu tells Green directly, “you will see me at election time,” to which Green replies, “That’s fine, you will never beat me."
Two days after receiving the trespass notice Orughu said he received a call Wednesday from a Peel Regional Police constable, investigating the allegations in the board letter.
“The officer told me he was following up on a complaint made by a Trustee, David Green,” said Orughu who detailed that the constable cited the testy exchange with Green as the reason for the complaint.
Orughu insists he was not threatening Green, just promising to vote against the trustee in the next election. He also says he has no intentions of running for office.
“I wanted to let him know we [as a community] are paying attention to the trustees who continually vote against issues involving our children,” he said. “If that was a threat, I don’t know what was threatening about it.”
Orughu, a parent who says he has nieces and nephews in the PDSB, also acknowledges he referred to Trustee Green, who is also Black, as an “Uncle Tom” during the exchange, something which is not heard on the meeting audio. The term is derogatory and refers to Black individuals who work against their own community for their own advantage.
“I was having a conversation with the Chair and it’s not appropriate for the vice chair [to interject],” he said about the insult. “It doesn’t look good to the board when you have a vice chair who’s screaming [at] a member of the public. That was excessive from David.”
Later that month, at the Feb. 25 board meeting which would end behind closed doors and with police cars in the parking lot of the building, Green would tell his colleagues during the private session he had been threatened by a parent. “I’m in fear of my life at the moment,” he is recorded as telling the board. “I’m very intimidated. My whole body’s shaking.”
Green has declined to comment on what he reportedly said, what is captured in the recording and the trespass notice, referring any questions to his lawyer. He did not respond to The Pointer’s request for the lawyer’s contact information.
Orughu denies he had any interactions other than what was captured in the recording with Green at the meeting, which was marked by public demonstrations of outrage. Orughu says he joined in to support the protesters, but maintains he had no direct contact with any of the trustees, other than those whom he considers sympathetic to ending anti-Black racism.
“Never once was I in a one-on-one with any board member,” he said.
Kola Iluyomade also received a letter from the board indicating the Mississauga man had made “derogatory remarks” made on separate occasions including in an email sent at the beginning of March to staff and parents, “that contained multiple inaccuracies, as well as disrespectful and derogatory language and accusations”.
The letter warns Iluyomade, who has made frequent critical speeches to the Board on the matter of anti-Black racism, to address future comments in a “respectful manner,” and places restrictions on individual correspondence with board officials.
“Should this pattern of conduct continue, whether at any committee or Board meeting, other forum, or in any communication, you will not be permitted to attend on any Board property,” states the letter sent to Iluyomade on March 5. It also reminds Iluyomade to be respectful at future meetings, including a meeting of the board’s Parent Involvement Committee (PIC) which was scheduled for the following day.
Iluyomade provided correspondence from PIC, which had personally invited him to attend the meeting, indicating the group was not consulted prior to the letter being sent.
“We also do not know how the Board would enforce the warnings on the letter, as the Chair of the meeting would make the call to remove someone at a PIC meeting,” states the March 10 correspondence from the Parent Involvement Committee.
The letters to Orughu and Iluyomade were signed by PDSB director Joshua. Asked by The Pointer for more details about the motivations behind sending the letters, Joshua denied further comment, citing privacy “and other legal obligations”.
“The Board only issues trespass notices after serious consideration, including in light of the Board’s Code of Conduct and commitment to a safe and inclusive environment for the entire school community,” said Joshua in an emailed statement.
Asked about the letters, MacDonald referred the matter to the PDSB, which he is the chair of.
Asked by The Pointer if the board of trustees had been made aware of the trespass notices prior to them being sent to parents and to explain how the decisions were made, to use bans as the best course of action, a PDSB spokesperson referred The Pointer to the board’s official policy, which mirrors legislation in the provincial Education Act allowing school boards to bar individuals.
According to the policy, a trespass notice is sent after consultation with school officials including superintendents and support staff. There is no indication trustees need to be notified. There is also no indication of how such a ban would impact parents or family members barred from board property who might need to attend a school in the case of an emergency, or for an educational matter such as an interview with their child’s teacher.
Trustee Nokha Dakroub
PDSB Trustee Nokha Dakroub tried to bring up the matter of the notices at Tuesday’s board meeting but was rebuffed in her efforts, told by the chair the matter would not be dealt with.
Dakroub was shocked the notices were sent out and says she still has many unanswered questions for the PDSB.
“There are a lot of questions in terms of the process [for deciding to send the notices] I don’t understand,” Dakroub told The Pointer.
She had initially tried to create a public dialogue over PDSB policy regarding police intervention in student matters without the consultation of parents or guardians first. At the Feb. 25 board meeting, she moved a motion to end the practice in the case of non-emergencies, but her effort was declared out of order by Chair MacDonald, leading to public protests and eventually the summoning of Peel Police officers to clear the chambers.
Dakroub is hopeful the provincial review set to be released will contain specific recommendations for police and hopefully place checks on how officers can interact with students and introduce more accountability for school officials who call in the police.
“There needs to be an explanation for the rationale,” Dakroub said.
PDSB Trustee Kathy McDonald
Brampton PDSB Trustee Kathy McDonald, a frequent critic of the school board’s treatment of its Black students, said the letters were disheartening.
“[The PDSB] has doubled down on its efforts to silence the community,” McDonald said on Tuesday. “Anyone who speaks up [against anti-Black racism] is ostracized.”
Orughu says he is planning to hire a lawyer to contest the ban. He’s concerned about implications being made toward his reputation without evidence and the precedent the ban sets.
He also vowed to continue to speak up against racism in the school system.
“They won’t stop me, if that’s what they think.”
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