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PDSB apologizes to community activist for acts of racism

October 1, 2020   ·   0 Comments



Peel District School Board (PDSB) admitted last week that a long-standing dispute between some Board officials and a local community activist, stemming from an incident on PDSB property back in March in which police were called, was “discriminatory” and “an act of anti-Black racism”. 

The local school board issued an apology to Idris Orughu last Wednesday (Sept. 23), who was issued with a notice of trespassing after he attempted to attend a PDSB board meeting in February. The Citizen caught up with Mr. Orughu this week to capture his thoughts and feelings following a stressful, months-long disagreement with PDSB. 

PDSB holds bi-weekly board meetings, which are open to the public. Mr. Orughu was a regular attendee at these meetings, along with other residents and parents. At one particular meeting, held on Feb. 25, a discussion amongst Board members made reference to an incident that occurred at a Mississauga elementary school four years ago. 

In September 2016, a six-year-old girl was detained and bound by her wrists and ankles with handcuffs after her school in Mississauga called the police due to ‘violent behaviour’. The young girl was held for 28 minutes straight. 

Her family was shocked and distraught by the knowledge of how the girl was treated and pursued a civil lawsuit against Peel Police. Mr. Orughu expressed his feelings to the Board members, that the actions taken against the young student were out of line. Inwardly, he wondered, since the girl was black, whether this could be seen as an act of racism. 

“This child could have been any child, but it just so happened that she was black, but we had seen a pattern that’s been ongoing where police were called unnecessarily for misbehavior that could be addressed by the school. A young black kid that was having some challenges ended up being handcuffed and hogtied. This was a practise that was just unconscionable,” Idris explained. 

Himself and other members of the community went to the Board to talk about that practice of police being called to address situations involving children to come to an end. Parents were upset at the meeting, expressing their belief that the school board, principals, or teachers should have been able to handle the situation without having to involve the police.  

Orughu explains that the men remained seated, while the women spoke their words stating that “if a man had expressed his feelings the way some of the women were, it would have been seen as trying to stand up to authority.” 

Things slightly escalated and some parents were asked to leave the meeting. Eventually the board decided to enter into a private session. When some members of the public wouldn’t leave, the police were called.  

“We had two trustees come and join us because they heard that they were calling the police. I wondered, why would you call the police? Eventually the police came, they never spoke to me, nor did they speak to anybody. They walked right by me,” said Orughu. “I went about my business standing and watching. We felt intimidated, because there was no need to call the police on black parents that were telling (the board) to stop the practice of handcuffing young black children.” 

He remembered waking up the next day and reading a news article that one of the trustees feared for his life. 

On March 9, Orughu received a letter from the school board banning him from showing up to any Peel District School Board premises for one full year, stating that he harassed and threatened board members. 

Orughi was both appalled and confused about the reasoning behind their decision to ban him from all PDSB facilities, especially given there had been no other correspondence, either verbal or written, telling him that his behaviour at the board meeting was inappropriate.

“The only reason was that they just wanted to silence me as the face and voice of the protect against the treatment of children of Peel movement,” he said. “They tried to make this a black issue. The affects to black children was just one part of the issue. There was also Islamophobia, there was the way they saw children of South Asian descent. We were also talking about Indigenous children, kids who are members of LGBTQ community, and children who had a learning disability, which encompasses all races.” 

Months after he received that letter banning him and accusing him of harassment and threatening behaviour, PDSB released an apology on Sept. 23. 

“The Peel District School Board extends an apology to Mr. Orughu,” stated the letter. “The issuing of the notice of trespass and contacting the Peel Regional Police were acts of discrimination and anti-Black racism.”

Orughu is appreciative and thankful for the work of PDSB Supervisor Bruce Rodrigues, who was brought in by the provincial government earlier this year  to oversee the school board and take necessary actions to eliminate inequality and racism in the PDSB. 

“He understands our pain. He knows what needs to be done, and he’s trying to do it, so I welcomed the apology,” Orughu stated. “But at the same time, for me personally, it’s a small price to pay for the pain and trauma being experienced by these marginalized people. There’s still a lot that needs to be done. We cannot fix a broken and rotten system within one year for something that’s been going on for generations, for multi-generations.”

In its release to the public, PDSB says it will work to ensure the elimination of discrimination of any kind within the school board. 

“The Peel District School Board recognizes and apologizes on behalf of senior leadership for the impact of that trespass letter on Mr. Orughu’s advocacy efforts to change education policies that perpetuate anti-Black racism and oppressive practices,” the release states. “The Peel District School Board is committed to working with members of its community to address anti- Black racism, inequity, and social inequality that impact the ability for all students to achieve their potential.”

PDSB has been under constant fire in recent years for perceived racial discrimination in their schools, but Orughu states this issue does not begin and end in Peel. 

He explained how several schools in Ontario have these issues, but are not in the spotlight. With Orughu’s face and voice speaking out and advocating on these issues, people from broader areas are reaching out to him for assistance.

“I’ve had tons of emails and correspondence, hearing about incidents from students from the Catholic school system from Hamilton to Vaughan. Because of what I’ve been doing, I’m getting all of this, and you realize that this is all over Ontario. And if it’s all over Ontario, there’s something wrong with our educational system in Canada,” he said. “We don’t send children to school to harm them. We send children to school so that they can learn, and become productive, good citizens of this country.” 

He added, “When you harm them at such early years, those such formative years, you are costing society a lot because we have to pay for those mistakes.”



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