Antisemitic, Homophobic and Anti-Black Racism Graffiti in Schools

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We want to acknowledge the deeply disturbing recent incidents of antisemitism, homophobia and anti-Black racist vandalism in our community and in our schools. Of particular concern is the increase in reports of antisemitic graffiti and vandalism. Let us be clear; antisemitism, anti-Black racism and racism or hatred of any kind will not be tolerated at our Board. These incidents cause hurt and harm to our students, staff, families and community partners. Clearly there is more work to be done, and we remain deeply committed to doing that work. 

In the interest of transparency, we also want to share with you the steps that we have taken to address the recent incidents in our schools, and the work in which we are engaging at a system level.

When these incidents are reported, our schools are taking all appropriate steps including notifying York Regional Police. We are also working with the schools to put in place additional learning, supports and resources. 

Several schools received education on antisemitism, hate and intolerance through the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC)’s Tour for Humanity bus. We have also connected schools with resources through our board’s Inclusive School and Community Services (ISCS) to support additional learning in the classroom. 

In light of the increase in reports of antisemitic graffiti/vandalism in schools, our Board has engaged Bernie Farber, to develop a Board strategy to address incidents of antisemitism. Bernie Farber is considered an expert in the field of human rights, hate crime and white supremacy. He has served as chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress and Paloma Institute, and as Executive Director of the Mosaic Institute. He is a well-known author, speaker and advisor in human rights work. Our work with him is currently underway and will be shared with our communities when completed.

Last March, we launched our Dismantling Anti-Black Racism Strategy: Creating anti-racist and Black-affirming learning and working environments, developed in consultation with Turner Consulting and Black community partners. In June, we announced the appointment of a Principal, Dismantling Anti-Black Racism to coordinate the implementation of the strategy. Her team includes a dismantling anti-Black racism strategist and Black graduation coaches. They work closely with an identity-specific community partnership developer and social worker. An important part of the team’s work includes supporting all YRDSB staff in acquiring the racial literacy skills needed to recognize, discuss, dismantle and disrupt racist ideologies that perpetuate the disparities that Black students face.

We continue to invest in professional learning and development for staff on anti-oppression, addressing antisemitism, affirming African indigeneity, dismantling anti-Black racism. The Board recently developed an anti-racist educators network, and: 

  • Worked with our affinity group, the Network of Educators Supporting Jewish Learners (NESJL) who partnered with FSWC to deliver 15 professional learning opportunities for trustees, Senior Leadership Team, educators and department staff. The sessions are entitled Reflection on Antisemitism, Past, Present and Future.
  • Worked with Kojo Institute who delivered two four-week learning opportunities for the Senior Leadership Team and over 200 administrators and managers. The four-part professional learning opportunity was entitled, Leading Change for Equity: Anti-Black Racism (Anti-Oppression/Anti-Racism) Training for Leaders in Education.
  • Working with The 519 who are currently delivering a series of professional learning opportunities for staff on topics including, Gender and Sexuality Diversity, Race and Queerness, Deep Dive into Trans-Affirming Practices, and Sexuality and Gender. The 519 training is part of an effort to challenge homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and to foster environments that are inclusive of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
  • On behalf of the Board of Trustees, the Chair and Director will be sending a letter to the Ontario College of Teachers encouraging them to develop a Professional Advisory on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial/Distortion. We commend the College for the creation of the Professional Advisory on Anti-Black Racism but more work is needed to eliminate hate in all forms.

These professional learning opportunities and our ongoing work to implement our Trustees Multi-Year Strategic Plan, and the Director’s Action Plan are part of what we call our “Big Tent” approach to ensuring that our schools and workplaces are safe, welcoming, equitable and inclusive places for our students to learn and for our staff to work.

We are also preparing to release our Discriminatory Slurs and Statements Protocol. This protocol will clarify York Region District School Board’s position on the use of hate speech, racial and discriminatory slurs, epithets, statement and/or representation, pejorative terms used to describe Indigenous peoples, racial, ethnic, religious, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or disability attributes. 

We will continue to strive every day to create learning and working environments where all of our students feel valued, seen, heard and respected, and know that they can bring their full selves to school each day. 

Louise Sirisko, Director of Education

Allan Tam, Chair