This document affirms York Region District School Board’s commitment to fostering safe, respectful and identity-affirming learning and working environments for all students, staff and community. It does so by clarifying the Board’s position on the use of hate speech, racial and discriminatory slurs, epithets, statements and/or representations (e.g., the n-word), pejorative terms used to describe Indigenous peoples, racial, ethnic, religious, sex, gender, sexual orientation or disability attributes. This Protocol collectively refers to these as “discriminatory slurs and/or statements.” It is in keeping with the Board’s legal, professional and moral obligations to support the well-being of all our students and staff and protect them from harassment and discrimination. It also confirms YRDSB’s commitment to Championing Equity and Inclusivity through the Multi-Year Strategic Plan and Director’s Action Plan.
YRDSB will not tolerate the use of discriminatory racial slurs or statements. This includes the expression of such slurs, epithets, statements or representations (e.g., drawing of a swastika) by staff, whether written, verbal or electronic; when reading text aloud, quoting or teaching course content; or during conversation or electronic transmission.
It results in harm and produces inequities in educational outcomes for students who have been targeted.
This document also promotes accountability and provides guidance to YRDSB staff on their responsibilities to act when they hear or learn of the use of discriminatory slurs and/or statements.
Discriminatory epithets are disparaging or abusive words or phrases used to characterize a person based on demeaning and discriminatory profiles or stereotypes.
Hate speech is inflammatory speech or writing that incites hatred or violence, expresses prejudice or perpetuates false narratives of the superiority or inferiority of any particular group.
Children have the right to access education that develops them to their fullest potential without discrimination. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantees this right. Access to education free from discrimination is also protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code (“the Code”) and the Education Act.
The Code also enshrines the right of all Ontarians to learn and work in environments free from harassment and discrimination. This includes protection from discriminatory slurs and statements which directly target a group to which they belong and from those which reference another group, but which creates poisoned learning and/or working environments.
The Code imposes a duty on those with leadership responsibilities to take action to stop harassment or discrimination when they know, or ought reasonably to have known, about the incident.
The educator’s ethical standard of respect, identified by the Ontario College of Teachers, requires that members of the profession honour the human dignity, emotional wellness and cognitive development of all students. The Professional Misconduct regulation (O. Reg. 437/97) made under the Ontario College of Teachers Act, now includes “making remarks or engaging in behaviours that expose any person or class of persons to hatred on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination under Part I of the Human Rights Code.” This applies to conduct or remarks made inside or outside the classroom, whether at work or outside of work, and via electronic means.
Application and Scope
This guidance applies to all Board staff, including educators, school administrators, and all other staff, whether or not they work directly with students. It also applies to all contractors, vendors, family members and all other adults who visit YRDSB premises, whether in-person or virtually.
This protocol applies to discriminatory slurs and statements:
By YRDSB staff toward students individually or in learning environments, verbally or in writing (e.g., said out loud during class, read out loud when quoting or referencing curriculum, writing out or projecting texts for viewing by students, etc.).
By YRDSB staff toward other staff in any learning or working environment (e.g., in staff rooms or staff meetings, in the hallway, on social media, etc.).
By students, family members, contractors, vendors, and visitors toward YRDSB staff in any learning or working environment (e.g., in meetings, in the hallway, on social media, etc.).
By students, family members, contractors, vendors and visitors that has an adverse effect on the learning and/or working environments broadly (e.g., directed towards a teacher or other staff, a social media post by a student, family member, contractor, vendor or visitor containing discriminatory slurs and statements that becomes known to other students/staff and has an adverse impact on the learning environment).
This guidance does not apply to:
Student-to-student conduct between individual students, which is addressed under YRDSB Caring and Safe Schools Policy and Procedure #668.0.
This protocol applies to all YRDSB learning and working environments, including those in which the persons or groups targeted by the discriminatory slurs and/or statements are present and those in which they are not.
This Protocol applies, but are not limited to the following circumstances:
Conduct or remarks made in any YRDSB learning and working environment.
Conduct or remarks made inside or outside the classroom, whether at work or outside of work, and via electronic means.
Conduct or remarks made electronically.
Conduct occurring inside and outside the classroom.
The use of texts and teaching materials in all subject areas of the curriculum.
This Protocol is not intended to discourage or prohibit YRDSB staff from engaging in teaching curriculum that seeks to include the diversity of YRDSB’s student demographic in meaningful, equitable and respectful ways. Instead, it encourages the use of learning resources that empower and affirm our students’ identities and histories or which educate and inform an anti-racist and anti-oppressive lens. All resources must be aligned with YRDSB’s goal of dismantling anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism and all forms of racism and/or discrimination that have the effect of devaluing, disempowering and marginalizing. Principles of procedural justice will always apply and will be inherent to these requirements and will be done equitably in considering all relevant and extenuating contexts.
YRDSB is dedicated to the creation of respectful and identity-affirming learning and working environments. The use of discriminatory slurs and/or statements in one’s learning and working environment:
Has harmful physical and psychological effects on students and staff.
Can create a poisoned learning and working environment.
Perpetuates oppression within learning and working environments.
Can contribute to bullying from one’s coworkers.
Contributes to disengagement from school and/or work.
Creates a learning environment that is not conducive to academic and work success.
Disrupting oppression involves identifying and addressing organizational structures, policies, programs and practices (e.g., discipline, streaming, hiring, parent engagement) that uphold power and privilege and maintain anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black racism, anti-Asian racism, Islamophobia, antisemitism, classism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism. In 2020, YRDSB affirmed its commitment to dismantling anti-Black racism throughout the school system and providing identity-affirming learning and working environments for students and staff. Creating working and learning environments that are inclusive, anti-racist and anti-oppressive is also expressed in YRDSB’s Multi-Year Strategic Plan, Director’s Action Plan, Indigenous Education and Equity Strategy, Dismantling Anti-Black Racism Strategy, Equity Action Plan, Employment Equity Plan and its Leadership Framework.
In addition, the use of discriminatory slurs and statements by YRDSB staff and the failure to immediately act when they are used, undermines the credibility of YRDSB’s commitment to fostering positive learning and working environments and harms our relationships with the families and students we serve and the employees with whom we work.
Roles and Responsibilities
Educators and Staff
All educators and staff have the responsibilities to:
Refrain from using discriminatory slurs and/or statements (e.g., spoken, online, written, social media, etc.) whether in the classroom or in conversation outside of the classroom.
Immediately interrupt the use of discriminatory slurs and/or statements, to disrupt its further use and to reiterate that use of such language will not be tolerated.
Work with their supervisor to restore the learning and working environment when discriminatory slurs and/or statements have been used.
Report the incident to a supervisor when they witness, learn of or experience the use of discriminatory slurs and statements. Where the school administrator or manager is the source of the discriminatory slur and/or statement, they have a responsibility to report it to that person’s supervisor or any other superintendent at the Board.
School Administrators and Managers
In addition to the responsibilities above, school administrators and managers have additional responsibilities to:
Provide guidance on the use of educational materials. Where educators are using teaching material that include discriminatory slurs and/or statements, school administrators have the responsibility to ensure that the materials serve a legitimate educational purpose, that the educator is providing sufficient context for students so as not to perpetuate oppression, and that the slurs are not used in the course of reading aloud.
Lead the restoration of working relationships and the learning environment.
Communicate next steps to students, families and staff involved in an incident.
Bring the incident to the attention of YRDSB senior leadership to ensure accountability and appropriate institutional response (e.g., targeted training, restorative learning intervention, school wide announcement of incident, apology, etc.)
Investigate the incident or refer the incident to be investigated as appropriate.
Document student incidents including the completion of all associated materials in RESOLVE.
Breach of these responsibilities and legal obligations by any YRDSB staff may result in discipline up to and including termination of employment and/or reporting to the Ontario College of Teachers where required.
Guidance on Selection of Learning Resources
The use of discriminatory slurs and/or statements, including discriminatory representations and epithets, causes harm. Therefore, a learning resource that includes discriminatory slurs, epithets, statements and/or representations should not be required content for students, except in cases where the resource is being used intentionally to disrupt and dismantle discriminatory ideologies and systems of oppression. In these cases, educators must make clear that such language, whether historical or contemporary, is used to cause hurt, trauma and marginalization. Discriminatory slurs and/or statements should never be repeated in the course of reading aloud or teaching the content. An intent or motive to discriminate is not a necessary element in proving harassment or discrimination. The primary focus is on whether the person's actions has a negative or discriminatory effect on students or staff.
As educators, we are all responsible for the selection of authentic, culturally relevant and responsive and identity-affirming learning resources based on a deep understanding of students’ social identities and lived experiences. The selection process should be a collaborative effort among the key stakeholders in schools; however, it is the educator’s responsibility to critically review all classroom texts and resources from an anti-racist, anti-colonial, and anti-oppressive lens prior to sharing them with students.
Educators across all disciplines must critically examine texts selected for classroom instruction, using The Process for the Selection of Learning Resources and Text Selection Tool located on the BWW. This tool is informed by an anti-oppression framework: an approach which ensures that equity and human rights are foundational to the work of educators. Engaging with an anti- oppression framework leads to the understanding of how power, privilege and oppression operate within the classroom and are either reinforced or disrupted by practices such as resource selection. In addition to resources and working examples, the selection tool also provides prompts to reflect on the instructional approaches used and the classroom environment, both of which are critical to achieving the educator’s intended goals.
Texts can be defined as any resource or learning material used in any discipline or subject area, including music, videos, images, books, articles, websites, podcasts, posters, social media posts, infographics, maps, political cartoons, word problems, works of art, etc.
The following questions from The Process for the Selection of Learning Resources and Text Selection Tool may serve as a helpful starting point for educators and students to interrogate existing resources used in instruction:
How is language used?
Who has power?
What from the existing collection might need to be rethought or removed because it acts as a barrier to inclusion, accessibility, achievement and well-being?
Does this text contribute to affirming views of historically and currently marginalized groups or communities? What complementary texts might be included?
Have opportunities for student voice been provided around text selection decisions, choice of text format and learning design?
Whose knowledge is being represented and privileged?
What norms, complementary texts or contextual learning might be required?
- Does the classroom environment support students challenging biases and navigating challenging topics and themes as they engage with the text?
Failure to Report
Failure by any YRDSB staff to report the use of a discriminatory slur and/or statement: (a) used by them in a learning or working environment, (b) raised by another person or which they otherwise become aware of, will be addressed and investigated immediately by YRDSB senior leadership.
Failure by school administrators and supervisors to act to stop and/or report the use of discriminatory slurs and statements when they do occur may be seen as condoning these inappropriate behaviours. Both failure to act to stop the behaviours and failure to report are violations of YRDSB’s legal obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code and a breach of YRDSB’s Human Rights: Code-Related Harassment and Discrimination Policy #240.
Maintaining the confidentiality of all parties involved is essential. Confidentiality maintains the investigation’s integrity and helps to maintain safe and healthy learning and working environments free from gossip and/or rumour-mongering. As such, all YRDSB staff involved in an incident or investigation must not discuss the incident with anyone other than for the purpose of supporting the investigation.
No Reprisal for Reporting
Being the recipient of, or witnessing the use of discriminatory slurs or statements by any student, staff or family member must allow for protection from any reprisal for the act of reporting. Similarly, this would apply to individuals tasked with conducting reasonable enquiries and investigations into such matters. Along with witnesses, these individuals must feel safe to report without fear of reprisal.
Under the Human Rights Code, a reprisal is defined as an action or threat that is intended as retaliation for claiming or enforcing a right under the Code. Section 8 of the Code protects people from reprisal or threats of reprisal. To claim reprisal, a person does not have to show that their rights were actually infringed. However, the following will establish that someone experienced reprisal based on a Code ground:
an action was taken against, or a threat was made to, the claimant
the alleged action or threat was related to the claimant having claimed, or trying to enforce a Code right, and
there was an intention on the part of the respondent to retaliate for the claim or the attempt to enforce the right.
YRDSB will respond firmly and decisively to any reprisal or threat of reprisal and will do so immediately, either through a specific investigation process or by way of an official referral to the Human Rights Commissioner. Under Section 4.6 of Policy and Procedure #240.0, Human Rights: Code-Related Harassment and Discrimination (“Policy #240”) the following is stated:
“Reprisal is the negative treatment or suggestion of negative treatment of a person because of their involvement in a human rights complaint, investigation or resolution process.”
Should a YRDSB staff or student experience reprisal by other school staff, including Principals, Vice-Principals, Managers or Supervisors, for reporting the use of discriminatory slurs and/or statements, they are encouraged to contact the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner. A Complaint with the Human Rights Commission can be filed under Section 5 of Policy #240.
Upon receipt of written consent, the Human Rights Commissioner’s Office (“the HRCO”) will initiate contact with the relevant Supervisory Officer or appropriate Associate Director to secure accountability and ensure the issue is addressed in a responsive and effective manner. Based on its own process, the HRCO may determine a process for early resolution or proceed with a formal investigation. Under the HRCO process, any reprisal or threats of reprisal that are reported will be reviewed to determine nature and context, based on all relevant facts and circumstances. Therefore, anyone who has engaged in reprisal would be given notice that the HRCO is engaged.