Community groups welcome the Peel District School Board’s decision to develop an anti-Islamophobia strategy, as they say the plan will help make schools safer for Muslim staff and students.
At its September 30 meeting, the Peel District School Board (PDSB) adopted a motion from Councilor Nokha Dakroub calling for adoption of the strategy. The plan includes mandatory anti-Islamophobia training for all council staff.
The board of directors is the first in the GTA to commit to creating such a strategy, and Dakroub is expected to announce it at PDSB headquarters on Thursday.
Aasiyah Khan, manager of education programs at the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), said the strategy is a step in the right direction, but if the plan is to be strong it will require the participation of community members and of the board of directors to take specific actions.
âWe hope this strategy is a first step in the ongoing work that is needed to ensure that all students feel included,â Khan said Wednesday.
“We recognize that this is a systemic problem,” she added.
“And so, this would require a systemic engagement and response that includes centering the voice of students, revising the content of the problematic program, affirming the identities of students and staff, creating spaces where, if the people are confronted with Islamophobia or any form of hatred, they feel comfortable enough to report it.
As for compulsory anti-Islamophobia training for staff, such education is a way to eradicate misunderstandings around Islam, introduce “miscellaneous narratives” about Muslim communities and ensure that educators have the tools they need to ensure classrooms are inclusive, Khan added.
If Islamophobia is left unchecked, it can lead to acts of violence, she said. âOur schools are not immune to these realities.
The police were created after the murder of four members of a Muslim family in London, Ontario. earlier this year and the murder of a guard at a Toronto mosque in 2020.
According to the CNMC, the word âIslamophobiaâ is used in Canada to describe the irrational fear or hatred of Muslims that leads to discrimination or acts of harassment or violence.
The board must raise awareness
In a video posted to Twitter, Dakroub said, âThe strategy will focus on education, building understanding, centering student voices and valuing lived experiences. communication with the whole community. ”
Dakroub said the board has a responsibility to raise awareness, build understanding, ensure that schools are welcoming to all students and staff, including those of the Muslim faith, and provide public education in in a “culturally sensitive” way. Peel Region is home to a vibrant Muslim community, she added.
She said the board will create a committee, made up of board staff and community members, which will be responsible for overseeing the rollout of the strategy. The community’s contribution has been “at the forefront,” she said.
My motion to develop a comprehensive anti-Islamophobia strategy was approved at the board meeting of @PeelSchools last night.
Grateful for the support of community organizations & look forward to moving forward with this important work. @nccm @UARRToronto @MEAPTweets @CASSAOnline pic.twitter.com/94zxpomyhu
Einas Habib, a grade 7 French immersion teacher at Sir William Gage Middle School in Brampton, said she was delighted the school board was tackling Islamophobia in this way. Muslim and non-Muslim teachers will benefit from compulsory training, she said.
âI’ll be honest, I’ve been waiting for this for a very long time,â she said.
âEven as a student, I always wondered when Muslims would get more attention. Even before I became a teacher, I knew there was a problem, where students felt uncomfortable, the Muslim community felt extremely uncomfortable. They did not really feel welcome in some way, or they were afraid to be themselves. Now, as a teacher, I am very happy at this topic. “
Habib said she hopes the strategy will allow staff and students to have conversations about Islamophobia in the classroom. She said she had heard Muslim students talk about the struggles they were facing.
“They have to try very hard and they have to be very careful with their words to be greeted.”
Fighting hate through education, according to one group
The Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA), for its part, said in a statement of support on Twitter that the strategy is in line with the work it has been doing since 2017, which is to bring attention to hate crimes and to create anti-hate programs and policies.
“One of the most effective ways to combat hate in all its forms is education and education begins with ensuring that our school boards are held accountable for the proper training needed to combat the rise of the ‘Islamophobia,’ CASSA said in the statement.
CASSA noted that the board has a “significant” number of Muslim students, staff and teachers.
“Schools must be places of safety and must not perpetuate hatred or evil in any form,” CASSA continued. âA positive learning environment and a safe working environment must be cultivated and mandated to mitigate the damage – both mental and physical – caused by discrimination, xenophobia and Islamophobia. “
A June 2020 board report found that its directors were ill-prepared to make changes to tackle racism, particularly anti-black racism, and that Islamophobia was a concern.
Approval of the motion came after four members of the Afzaal family were run over by a man who police said was motivated by anti-Muslim hatred in London last June.
It also followed the fatal attack on Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, 58, a volunteer guardian of a mosque in Etobicoke, as he sat outside the gates of the International Muslim Organization.
Khan, for her part, said she hopes other school boards will follow Peel’s lead.
“It’s a long way to go and we need all school boards to adopt a strategy like this.”