Hamilton school board launches probe after accusation of ‘racism and oppression’

Hamilton's public school board has begun a two week remote learning period as of Jan. 5, 2021 on orders from the province. Don Mitchell / Global News

Allegations of racism and oppression within the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) has sparked a third-party code of conduct investigation, according to the institution’s chair and secretary of the board.

The release comes in answer to a thread of tweets from student trustee Ahona Mehdi made on Saturday as her term ended with the HWDSB.

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“The HWDSB is a disgustingly racist and oppressive institution that serves the interest, success & well-being of white, straight, able-bodied, cis-gender staff & students,” Mehdi said in one post.

“I’m beyond disturbed to have attended HWDSB schools for 14 years — but I’m ready to unlearn & call them out.”

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Other accusations Mehdi made on Twitter included a claim she was shamed for not wearing a Christmas sweater to a board meeting, that a trustee insinuated Arabs/Muslims were evil, and that a trustee used the N-word in reference to Serena Williams.


In response, HWDSB chair Alex Johnstone and secretary Manny Figueiredo issued a joint statement on Saturday night saying they found Mehdi’s concerns “deeply disturbing.”

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“As an educational institution, we are committed to taking action that builds a culture of equity and inclusion,” the statement said.

“We will immediately begin a third-party code of conduct investigation to understand and address all of the concerns raised.”

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The release also promised anti-racism and anti-oppression training for elected officials and staff in the coming school year.

On Monday, Mehdi reiterated her dismay with the board and demanded that the third-party investigation into the allegations of racism ‘be transparent’ and that the trustees involved be removed from their positions.

“If trustees fail to consider the impacts of their words and actions on black, indigenous and racialized students, then are they the right people to be making decisions for our students?” Mehdi said.

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Student Ruby Hye who’s a part of HWDSB Kids Need Help – a group which represents a segment of students and community members concerned with the rights of students in Hamilton – also spoke on Monday and said the comment about Serena Williams was made at a trustees dinner.

Hye went on to question the HWDSB chair Alex Johnstone’s tweet saying racism and oppression ‘will not be tolerated.’

“But what does it say about the whole trustee board when a trustee can get away with saying the N-word at a trustees dinner and nobody says anything about it? Where was trustee Johnston then to step in and not tolerate racism?” Hye said.

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Mehdi and Hye’s comments come in the midst of HWDSB’s three-year Equity Action Plan seeking feedback for an anti-oppression framework through recognizing inequities in school systems and institutions.

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