I am here tonight on behalf of the Muslim Parents Association to address the issues of Safe Schools Policy and Administrative Procedures. The TDSB has excluded our community, which constitutes 25% of the students that it serves, from participation and input, as part of the Task Group, and as well as the Safe Schools Advisory Committee. In this presentation, I will try to highlight our major concerns as Muslim parents and offer our input on the subject of safe schools policy and administrative procedures.
Like everybody else, we support the principle of a safe school policy. However, we have some concerns regarding certain terms used, implementation, and interpretation of what may or may not constitute a ‘safe school environment’.
The TDSB claims that its mission and commitment are "to provide learning environments that are safe, nurturing, positive, and respectful" as well as welcoming and providing a sense of belonging.
Part of the Policy Statement under the subheading ‘zero tolerance’ (p. 9), the Safe School Policy states that it "does not tolerate any anti-social or violent behaviour". The term anti-social is open for interpretation. It should therefore be changed to a more specific term that eliminates ambiguousness or it should specify what kinds of behaviours are considered anti-social. Different cultural traditions have different understanding of the word ‘anti-social’ and we from the Muslim community seek a clarification of the term and its intent.
Under the heading ‘values’(p. 10), the policy states "Building safe and caring school communities begins with a strong vision that encompasses a set of values and beliefs about what constitutes safe and caring school communities."
As Muslim Parents, the above statement is problematic, because in a diverse city like Toronto, people have different values and beliefs, and the question is: Whose values and belief systems are used to define what is a safe and caring school community?
What the TDSB considers a safe environment may not necessarily be safe for all communities. For us as Muslims, a safe school environment goes beyond the physical violent acts and inappropriate behaviour. It spans all aspects of student development, including but not limited to: personal and physical, psychological, mental, intellectual, spiritual, moral, cultural, and ethical. Moreover, it points to the sources or root causes of social maladies and the need to identify and eliminate them. Students and hence society become delinquent, defiant, threatening, and rebellious because of the negative, poisoning and damaging materials they are fed with. Thus, an unsafe environment may be the direct result of particular policies, curriculum, programmes and practices designed and perpetuated by the system itself. These are the real causes of unsafe environment and unacceptable behaviour in our schools and society at large.
Here is a perfect example to clarify what I mean. I quote from a newsletter, dated April 5, 2000, "Homophobia Workshops by Tim McCaskell from the Equity Studies department, and a panel of high school students, will be presenting workshops for our Grade 7 & 8 students on homophobia on April 17th and 18th. This is part of our Safe School Plan."
Is that what TDSB means by a "coordinated system to address the issue of violence, prevention, the development of the Safe School Policy and plans for implementation which are linked to existing policies such as the Equity Foundation Statement" (p. 9)
Thus, what the TDSB considers to be a safe environment or safe school plan is clearly in conflict with scientific evidence and reality. Homosexual lifestyle negates not only the existence of homosexuals themselves, but the family, society and all human existence. For Muslims, this is not only unacceptable because it contradicts our morals, values and beliefs, but it is manifestly dangerous and unsafe for our children and society. As a matter of policy, it also contradicts the stated position of the Board itself espouses a learning, safe, nurturing, positive and respectful environment in the public school system.
Under the heading ‘Policy Procedure’, the proposed safe school policy and administrative and operational procedures encompass nine key components (p. 10) that some are of direct concerns to Muslims. However, due to the limited time, I will address only a few in the following areas: school environment, promoting safe schools through curriculum, code behaviour and staff development and training.
School Environment (p. 15)
The proposed safe school policy defines the school environment as both physical and social which is at best incomplete. It further includes the material resources … and extra-curricular activities. This is ambiguous and does not go far enough to specify the curriculum. Yet subheading # 6 (p. 20) clearly states "Promoting Safe Schools Through Curricula", but mentions material resources and extra-curricular activities which are not defined to a specific area of the curriculum. This is ambiguous.
As you are already aware, thousands of Muslim parents have expressed to the Board our concerns regarding the social and extra-curricular programs and activities. Our children are put at risks by some of these programmes and activities. Thus, the system, by design, creates and promotes an unsafe and threatening environment through the social and extra-curricula programs and activities, as clearly stated on page 15: "wide participation in extra-curricular activities by all students is encouraged". Students cannot be made or encouraged to participate in any activity that is clearly harmful and contradicts their faith, morals and value system.
Promoting Safe Schools Through Curriculum (p. 20)
The proposed policy states "the promotion of safe schools must incorporate the principles of equity throughout the entire academic curriculum in order to help all students acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and sense of belonging that they need to become effective, participating members of society. Curriculum must be free of bias and stereotyping and must reflect the diverse groups that make up our society."
On the surface, this approach seems fair and equitable, if indeed all students were to receive equitable treatment and be made to feel a genuine sense of belonging in the system. In practice, this is far from the truth. The reality is that the TDSB uses a convenient but dangerous strategy through curriculum and instruction to promote certain ideas and lifestyles while remain blatantly and malignantly prejudicial and discriminatory against other groups.
As a recurring practice, just recently, a teacher introduced a video tape to the students from a radical feminist perspective that promotes their ideas on the basis of ‘equity’. The material viciously stereotyped faith groups and hurled a vulgar attack specifically against Islamic values and lifestyle. The hate propaganda of that video falsely claims that Muslim women are controlled by men and forced to wear the head covering (hijab). Wearing the hijab is a requirement based on Islamic law which is neither written by man nor woman. What exactly is the TDSB trying to do? As Muslims we cannot tolerate and allow the promotion of such malignant and discriminatory propaganda. By such practices, the Board should consider that it stands in serious violation of the Human Rights Codes, even it has no regard for its own stated policies.
This video, promoted wholesale in the public school, resulted in a heated argument between the teacher and some students who found the material grossly offensive and misleading about Muslim women and their lives. Thus, the TDSB has become the supreme agent in the public schools to promote an unsafe, antagonistic and a poisoned atmosphere by its highly selective lopsided and biased approach to education. I ask: Will the TDSB also show a video in class that promotes authentic Islamic values, teachings and lifestyle on the basis of equity?
I would like to know how the current attitude and practice of the Board helps the students to acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and sense of belonging that they need in order to become responsible and respectable members of society. Just the opposite can be envisaged as is the reality.
A lot of emphasis is being put on communications plans and actions to facilitate an understanding of the "safe schools policy and administrative procedures." This can be achieved when and only when the TDSB is really serious about a truly safe and caring school environment inclusive of all students alike, as well as implementation.
Staff Development (p. 23)
The staff’s role is crucial to the implementation of safe schools policy. As a result, they should be adequately and professionally trained for early prevention/solution. They are obligated to listen and address students’ complaints regarding bullying, name-calling, intimidating, and racial slurs. More often than not, the staff ignores and/or is too busy to deal with the students’ concerns. It simply tells them ‘go and sit down’ or ‘I’m too busy’ in order to evade the issue or dismiss the problem.
Such an approach discourages the students to turn for help from the adminstrative or an adult. As a result, either the student takes matters into his/her own hands, or accepts the situation as it is and lives with a sense of deprivation, oppression and abuse. This is a very common problem many families face. This is true for the code behaviour as well, which exists in most schools, yet the administratives and staff do not implement it. Rather, they turn a blind eye to all kinds of behaviours affiliated with gangs, drugs, alcohol, fighting and harassment, but they have full resources and capabilities to promote and impose offensive materials and ideas on others, contrary to their beliefs.
Consequences for Inappropriate Student Behaviour Grid (p. 28)
The terms affiliated with A, B, C, E, and F need to be defined and explained in a simple language of what these violations are and what they mean exactly. For example, persistent opposition to authority might be exercised by the school in order to violate one’s rights. This could easily happen, as it always does, when a teacher attempts to impose offensive materials on students, infringing upon their rights. Another example, injurious to the moral tone of school, is sometimes misused by staff which threatens the children’s safety and rights. Children were suspended unfairly because the staff failed to acknowledge language barriers and the rights of students. In situations like these, it seems that the TDSB is more interested in protecting itself rather than properly discharging its responsibilities to the public. Given the uneven relationship and the apparent impartial posture of the system, at no time should the student’s rights be placed in danger.
Also, on page 29, is there a reason why certain violations have the minimum suspension, without stating the maximum, whereas others state the exact days and both minimum and maximum? As a matter of policy, the TDSB policy itself should be clear. A safe school policy should be clear, specific, and written in such a manner and in a language that is easy to understand in order to accomplish the goals, through administrative procedures, rather than defeating the purpose. Moreover, it should be transparent, consistent and universal in implementation and allows for scrutiny, effectiveness and accountability. Much of the current disarray is due to the fact that the public really do not know what exactly is going on and people in the system are insulated from the consequences of responsibility and accountability.
Going through the grid (pp. 28-29), some violations that seem more serious than others have less serious consequences or length of suspension. For example, possession or use of alcohol or fighting (1 day minimum), sexual harassment or bullying/intimidation/ threatening (3 days minimum), possession or misuse of any harmful substances (5 days minimum), while the use of tobacco has a suspension of 1 to 20 days. Where is the balance and perspectives in these measures in relation to the violations? Moreover, why are some other very serious violations, such as fornication and adultery, with all the attendant consequences not listed? Who is setting the standard in our public schools?
On page 10, the last paragraph should include ‘parents’ as well.
In conclusion, the Muslim Parents Association urges the TDSB to postpone adopting the putative Safe School Policy until it is adequately and thoroughly studied. Moreover, all the important concerns should be addressed in full in the final document before it takes effect as policy. This is how the Board can hope to promote a truly safe public school environment and an equitable system for a significant 25% of its student population who are of the Muslim faith.
We hope that our concerns would be taken seriously and reflected in the final document.
Cc: EIC; Ministry of Education; Trustees; & TDMEA.