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YRDSB takes action to educate students after hate graffiti found at Newmarket schools

'It's important that we understand as a board that there (are) issues in our schools and our community and we're trying to work on raising awareness and to dismantle any issues of racism,' associate director of education says
2019 04 11 YRDSB building DK crop(1)
York Region District School Board. Debora Kelly/NewmarketToday

Plans — both long and short term — are in place at the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) to educate and raise awareness for what the board's associate director of education calls "egregious incidents of hate and discrimination" at three Newmarket schools earlier this month.

Immediately after antisemetic and anti-Black graffiti was discovered, YRDSB informed its community partners of the incidents, said Cecil Roach.

A swastika and the N-word were discovered in bathroom stalls at Newmarket High school and Huron Heights Secondary School and a swastika on an interior door was found at Glen Cedar Public School in the first week of March.

Among those contacted were the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, B'nai Brith and the Newmarket African Caribbean Canadian Association.

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) Tour for Humanity is part of what Roach calls a short-term plan to educate students at the three affected schools.

Launched in 2013, the Tour for Humanity is a mobile unit that travels to schools to educate students about history, intolerance and hate through the use of multimedia.

According to Roach, 300 students in Newmarket have completed the one-hour tour.

Long-term plans for education include raising awareness through morning announcements and working with the student-led equity and inclusivity advisory committee (EIAC) because there are many students who are unaware of the hurt that results from drawing a swastika or writing the N-word or using homophobic language, Roach said. Not just in the Newmarket schools, he added.  

"Schools are microcosms of society and we have a lot of issues in society."

Inclusive School and Community Services is meeting with school administration and student councils to determine what plans are needed and what should be implemented to address issues of hate and discrimination both from a curriculum perspective (inside the classrooms) and throughout the school, Roach said.  

Also in the long term will be the school board's implementation of the Dismantling Anti-Black Racism Strategy launched in February 2021.

The board is collaborating with 519, a Toronto LGBTQ+ organization that provides training and workshops, so students and staff can better understand the impact homophobia has on students and the school community.

The board has also been involved with The Network of Educators Supporting Jewish Learners program that has partnered with FSWC to deliver 13 educational sessions on antisemitism from both a modern and historical perspective.  

This spring training will be provided to trustees so they will have a better understanding of anti-Asian racism that has risen as a result of the pandemic.

"We do this kind of progressional learning all the time," Roach said.

Issues of racism and hate have become more prevalent in schools and elsewhere in the past few years, Roach said, but it has always been there and it's the "underbelly of our society we have to try to expose and address."

One incident of hatred is one too many, he said, and " it's important that we understand as a board that there's issues in our schools and our community and we're trying to work on raising awareness and to dismantle any issues of racism. . . that exist in our schools. "