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Student trustees raise concerns about election of Hamilton public school board vice-chair

HWDSB vice-chair Becky Buck, chair Dawn Danko, and student trustees Aisha Mahmoud and Deema Abdel Hafeez during the Monday, Dec. 13, 2021 board meeting. HWDSB.tv

The election of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board’s new vice-chair is getting some pushback from current and former student trustees, as well as advocates for racialized students.

At a Dec. 6 board meeting, Becky Buck — trustee for wards 8 and 14 — was elected vice-chair of the HWDSB, while Ward 8 trustee Dawn Danko was re-elected as chair.

Buck is one of four trustees indirectly referenced in a third-party review released at the beginning of 2021 that validated former student trustee Ahona Mehdi’s accusations of racism and censorship at the board.

While two other trustees were sanctioned as a result of that review, Buck and a fourth trustee were not found to have violated code of conduct rules and did not receive sanctions from their fellow board members.

Read more: Former student says Hamilton school board treated her racism accusations as a ‘one-off’

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Mehdi has since spoken out about Buck’s election as board vice-chair, calling the decision “disheartening” during an appearance on Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Hamilton Today.

“It was also disturbing to see, but definitely not surprising,” she said in an interview two days after the election. “I think time and time again, we’ve seen the school board protect racists, and we’ve seen the school board even promote racists.”

The report, which refers to Buck as Trustee 2, found that she questioned the need for an Indigenous student trustee, saying it would be “unjust” and “unfair” to other students, and also referred to community advocates who were critical of the police liaison officer program as “Twitter trolls.”

Mehdi said the report ultimately resulted in no consequences for two of the trustees, including Buck.

“Trustees voted to protect her by redacting the report. Trustees voted to protect her by not sanctioning her. And this was the outcome. Months have passed and these things have kind of, you know, they fall under the radar and now she’s our vice-chair.”

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An advocacy group called Hamilton Students For Justice, which was created following Mehdi going public with her allegations, is calling for Buck’s removal as vice-chair.

The group held a “watch party” on Monday in front of the HWDSB headquarters to voice the demand.

During Monday’s board meeting, current student trustees Aisha Mahmoud and Deema Abdel Hafeez presented a report that included “concerns” about the election of the new vice-chair raised by Black and Indigenous students.

“We have heard from our student communities that they are extremely disappointed with the nomination and election of the vice-chair,” said Mahmoud. “It is quite frustrating for these students to watch the board claim to uphold values of equity and inclusivity, yet watch a majority of the board act hypocritically.”

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Buck responded to the student trustees’ report, referring to the comments made as “untrue” and “personally disparaging.”

Read more: Report on Black students’ experience of racism in Hamilton schools calls for action

While Mahmoud and Abdel Hafeez’s report did not directly call for the board to remove Buck as vice-chair, the student trustees urged board members to “reflect” on the decision.

“With all due respect, we ask that the whole board of trustees reflect on recent decisions and consider the perspectives of all members of our community in the message that this has delivered,” said Abdel Hafeez. “We are making this request with the utmost respect and consideration for our student body.”

Danko thanked the student trustees for sharing the perspectives of their peers while also pointing out that nothing is preventing Buck from serving in the role of vice-chair.

“There was not a finding to be a breach requiring sanctions for the vice-chair, and the vice-chair has committed and completed all of the required training that we committed to through the 12 recommendations from the investigative report.”

She added that she would take the recommendation to reflect seriously and hoped that there would be opportunities to repair relationships with students through “ongoing dialogue.”

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