Already under fire over charges of systemic racism, a Peel District School Board meeting dissolved this week into new allegations — stifling public debate and failing to represent its community. Then police were called when the board vice chair said he feared for his life.
“Honestly, I will tell you, I am very nervous at the moment. I am shaking,” vice-chair David Green said Tuesday night during a private portion of the board meeting, which was recorded.
“Nothing gets me nervous. I am in fear of my life at the moment and I feel very intimidated. I am very nervous, I am shaking. I am in fear of my life, my whole body is shaking. I am scared,” Green said.
Chair Brad MacDonald, who had already ejected one person from the audience and closed the meeting to the public, told a school board staff member to call Peel police. Two officers arrived and took up position inside the atrium of the school board building on Hurontario Street in Mississauga.
The decision to call police has further inflamed a tense situation. To some trustees present, it also made no sense.
“I am 5 foot 2 inches, I am a woman. I was not scared,” said trustee Nokha Dakroub, who has served in that position for six years. “I do not understand why the police were called.”
Vice-chair Green told the Star Wednesday night in an email he could not comment because it is an “ongoing police matter.” He said, “I am also not in a frame of mind where I am able to respond to questions about this at this time.” Peel police did not respond to a request for comment.
Board chair MacDonald also would not respond to an interview request, directing the Star to a statement he made. “During private session, a trustee indicated that he felt there was a risk to his personal safety given an interaction he had with a member of the public. In response, I directed staff to engage security and to call Peel Regional Police to ensure that trustees got home safely.”
It was yet another raucous night at the Peel District School Board, which presides over 155,000 students in 253 schools, with a budget of $1.9 billion.
A provincial review was ordered by Education Minister Stephen Lecce last November after the Peel board reached out for help over allegations of anti-Black racism, a trustee who referred to the diverse McCrimmon Middle School as “McCriminal,” and after a senior administrator in charge of anti-discrimination launched a human rights complaint. As the Star’s Kristin Rushowy reported in January, just a few weeks into the review the three reviewers have an interim report that reveals they have “consistently heard painful accounts of traumatic experiences in schools and school communities.”
The “narratives shared with us signal a profound lack of respect in relationships, demonstrated by stories of marginalization, discrimination, differential behaviour, and harassment,” says their interim report, obtained by the Star.
The reviewers are looking into complaints of racism — in particular anti-Black racism — as well as issues overall with equity, hiring and leadership. The final report is due shortly.
It was in the atmosphere of these revelations that Tuesday night’s meeting played out. Here’s what happened.
The meeting started on a powerful and positive note. Board chair MacDonald, speaking to trustees in the meeting room and a crowd of onlookers, introduced what he called a “nice, special presentation.” In recognition of February’s Black History Month, MacDonald noted “beautiful displays” in the board’s atrium celebrating the work of Peel students, and then played a video production by students from Artesian Drive public school in Mississauga.
Called “If Black People Did Not Exist,” students in the video presented to music a long list of famous Black people they took inspiration from, including Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr.; Daniel Hale Williams, the doctor who did the first open heart surgery; inventors of items including the pencil sharpener, the fountain pen, the clothes dryer and the air conditioner; and then a list of sports heroes including runner Andre De Grasse and basketball star LeBron James.
So far so good, watchers explained to the Star on Wednesday. As some of the Peel school board meetings had been tumultuous, this was a good one. Some other routine business was dealt with after the video was played.
Then trustee Dakroub tried to introduce a motion to have the Peel board agree that the police (School Resource Officers, they are called, or SROs) attached to individual schools not interview or arrest students over problems until their parents had been notified. “Unless it is an emergency,” Dakroub explained to the Star. She had provided copies of the motion several weeks in advance to other trustees, the normal protocol when a motion is introduced.
Board chair MacDonald immediately ruled the motion out of order because, he said, it was not within the jurisdiction of the school board.
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Dakroub tried to split up her motion into three parts, but all were ruled out of order. MacDonald said what Dakroub was asking for was a provincial matter, not a matter for the school board.
People at the meeting stood up and complained.
“Stand up for Black students,” one person in the audience shouted. “Shame,” said another. MacDonald began to move trustees to a private room.
Another woman (the Star has not been able to reach the woman) stood up and told MacDonald he was in the wrong.
“This board does not speak for our community,” said the parent.
MacDonald said: “Either you can stop or I can have you removed from the meeting.”
“Tax dollars pay for you to be here, sir,” she told the chair, and left, saying security need not be called as she would decide to leave on her own.
Chair MacDonald took the meeting to a private board room. Trustee Dakroub stayed outside with members of the public who were now barred from the meeting.
“He’s calling the cops,” one trustee whispers to another (the entire session was recorded and the audio is on the Peel board website). Police arrived shortly after.
Veteran trustee Kathy McDonald went for part of the private meeting to express her displeasure with what she sees as the shutting down of public debate. In an interview, McDonald told the Star what was done at the meeting was “a blatant attempt to silence the Black community.”
Yes, McDonald said an audience member was “yelling and screaming” but she said that has happened before at lively Peel meetings. Once the situation is dealt with, the meeting can continue, she said.
Not all of the trustees the Star contacted would speak. Trustee Susan Benjamin said the board’s “code of conduct” prevented her from speaking to the Star.
After trustee McDonald left the private meeting of trustees, chair MacDonald (no relation) hurried through final agenda items. The two student trustees interjected, and delivered a short report they had prepared on the future of education and how there should be a focus at Peel on new methods for learning, and “equity practices at the board.”
The chair thanked the student trustees, asked no questions, and ended the meeting.
“There is no public question period,” he said.