By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Editor
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has reinstated the principal of the Africentric School after suspending her for about a month following a complaint from a parent. In fact, TDSB officials announced the reinstatement of Thando Hyman-Aman last week, one day after a boisterous meeting with parents who demanded the principal be returned to the school.
From what we understand, the principal was placed on home assignment following a complaint that she had abused a student. We also understand that the student, who is about six years old, was also suspended. But, there is more to this story.
As we understand it, this parent has made a number of complaints regarding staff at this school to board officials over the past year, none of which has been substantiated. Still, board officials chose to send the principal home and launch a month-long investigation. Why?
That investigation suddenly ended only when parents spoke up.
The mother of this child has said that this is the kind of school her child needs. Why? Is there something happening here that is not spoken of. Why was he suspended? Is he disruptive? And, if so, are board officials aware of this? And, if they are, what kind of assistance and resources are they providing to the school to help this child? What kind of assistance are they providing to the parent? To the child? Also, and with due respect to the parent, maybe this is not the kind of school this child needs. Maybe, if the school board was paying attention or maybe if they cared a proper environment with the resources to help this child would have been found a long time ago.
Or are they content to just suspend staff when a problem arises? Don’t TDSB officials understand how devastating their actions could be on the staff (including on their mental health) – both those who are suspended and those who are left to pick up the pieces – and on the young children themselves? Do they care?
And where is the union in all of this? Teachers have one of the most powerful unions in this province. How are they allowing all of this to happen? Where is the protection for the staff at the Africentric School? Where are the representatives of the association which is supposed to protect principals? Or are they all only interested in supporting and protecting White staff?
Come on. We have heard the stories of Black teachers and principals (and other workers in other unions) who have been hung out to dry with little or no help from their unions.
What is even more troubling is that just about all the stories we have heard regarding school staff are from their friends (and parents) as we understand employees of the school board are not allowed to speak to the media in these situations.
Are you kidding me? Are these human beings supposed to suffer in silence what might even be arbitrary actions on the part of school board officials and not be able to speak about it? Not be able to ask for help?
I was quite annoyed initially when we tried to speak to staff at the Africentric School only to discover later that they were under some kind of a gag order and couldn’t speak to us. All we have been able to gather is from friends who also seemed reluctant to speak to us on their behalf and parents who were more forthcoming. No wonder Hyman-Aman was off the job for almost three weeks before it came to our attention.
In fact, after some parents complained to us of another teacher who has been suspended from the school and we asked about it, I heard that this individual was unhappy with us for raising the issue.
Don’t blame us, friend. The parents want you back at the school. Their children want you back. They all say that you are a very good teacher. Now we understand why you haven’t spoken to us.
What is going on at the TDSB with Black staff?
Another thing. As we have noted before, the Africentric School has been under attack (for want of a better phrase) almost from the beginning. Apparently, some of the people who helped to get this school established are not happy with how it is being run. We understand that some of these folks feel shut out as they have no say in ‘their’ school now that it has become a reality.
You folks did an amazing job of forcing the board’s hand after so many years to get this thing going. But, before you, there were scores of other people who, for going on 30 years, have been working on this and other matters related to the education of our children. I remember, as a young (younger?) reporter many years ago standing outside the board offices which were then on College Street on cold, wet evenings with people from this community while representatives met with board officials upstairs, waiting for word on one issue or another. This is not your school, it belongs to all of us and, if truth be told, it belongs to all those people who have fought for it over the years. More importantly, it belongs to our/your children and grandchildren. You were just the ones in the right place at the right time to close the deal.
Get over it and let the people who are trained as educators do their jobs in peace. It is very sad to hear some of what has taken place over the past year.
Finally, we may need, as a community, to get back to our activist roots. Nothing we have gained has been given to us willingly. We have had to fight for every gain our community has ever made. Other communities have also benefitted from our struggles. And it might serve us well to remember that while our gains were hard won, they can be easily lost. If we choose to be complacent.
The lesson from those parents at the meeting last week should be one to which we pay special attention. Hyman-Aman might still have been sitting at home waiting on the TDSB if those parents hadn’t raised their voices. We need to speak up for other teachers, principals and school staff who are being gagged by this school board. But, in order to do so, we have to hear your stories.
Having Black officials at the school board also does not guarantee that our professionals and students will be treated with fairness. We have to hold their feet to the fire and call them out when necessary.
It might be time for us to begin to raise our voices again and even go out on the streets if we have to. There are still some of us who remember how to stand in the rain outside the school board office to demand fairness for our educators and our children.
Maybe we need to get those umbrellas out again.