Fondé en 1983 --Unis pour la diversité et l'égalité raciale

RACIAL DISCRIMINATION IN THE CLASSROOM: MARGUERITE BOURGEOYS SCHOOLBOARD CONDEMNED TO PAY $20,000


Montreal, February 23, 2010 --- A youth of Iranian-Nicaraguan origin and his mother have won their case of ethnic discrimination before Quebec’s Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission (QHRYRC). The case was against the Marguerite Bourgeoys Schoolboard (CSMB).

In its decision, sent to Ms. Marcia Novoa Guandique and her husband, Mr. Abbas Khairabadi last month, the QHRYRC concluded the couple’s son, Omid Khairabadi, was a victim of stereotyping in his Secondary 2 class. In 2002-2003, teachers at École Félix Leclerc, in the CSMB district, pulled Omid from a Spanish class because of his background without objectively evaluating his linguistic capacity or learning needs. The only assessment the teacher undertook before pulling Omid and two other students of Latin-American origin from the class was to ask “all those who speak Spanish to raise their hand”—they were then sent them to the library to study other subjects.

Furthermore, instead of issuing Omid the arbitrary grade of 85%, as was done for the other students in his situation, the school gave Omid no grade, then declared he was “absent without reason” and finally assigned him a 0. Despite his parents’ repeated efforts to correct the supposed “administrative error”, the failing grade remained. The situation had disastrous results on Omid’s enrollment in the school’s Program of Excellence, where he had previously maintained a 70% average consistently. As a result of the 0 in a Spanish course he had not been allowed to take, Omid was switched to the school’s Regular Program in 2003-2004. Also, his motivation to succeed in school was crushed. In its complaint filed on behalf of Omid’s parents in 2005, CRARR invoked language/ethnicity-based class reassignment, an American sociolegal concept, to characterize Omid’s situation.

Above and beyond these arbitrary reassignments, the CRARR complaint described still more harassment and humiliation that Omid suffered from the school’s Vice-Principal, Mr. Gaétan Boucher, and other members of the schoolboard. Such behaviors included the following:

  • Not receiving in front of all the students his certificate of distinction with honorable mention in the Written French class. Rather, Omid was called later by the School’s Secretariat to receive his certificate; upon finally getting it he realized it had not even been signed by Mr. Boucher;
  • Being left alone, by the school management, in the same class as another student who had threatened him online with violence and whose threats Omid had reported to the Vice-Principal and other teachers. Despite these threats and harassment, the school management did not take appropriate measures to protect him;
  • Harassment of Omid’s younger brother, D., such as reassignment to a remedial class (for students with learning difficulties) although based on his performance in the regular program, D. should have been placed in the Secondary 2 Regular Program. The school did not even inform Omid’s parents of this reassignment;
  • As a direct result of the negative effects caused by these acts on the learning climate between 2002-2005, Omid eventually abandoned his studies.

    In its decision the QHRYRC upheld the concept of stereotyping invoked by CRARR, a concept drawn from Ontario anti-racism policies, to conclude that Omid’s arbitrary reassignment from Spanish class was “due to false stereotypes ... concerning his knowledge of Spanish and his ethnic origin.” The decision also found that Omid was a victim of ethnic harassment.

    The QHRYRC required the CSMB to pay $10,000 to Omid’s parents in moral damages and $10,000 for loss of chance. It also required the CSMB to implement a non-discriminatory policy on course exemptions and the evaluation of students for the purposes of course exemptions.

    “I am pleased that the Human Rights Commission decided we were in the right,” said Omid. “That school nearly destroyed my and my brother’s future. It’s incredible how the teachers and school administrators applied such oppressive discriminatory practices against families like mine,” he commented.

    Mrs. Guandique added, “How many other students of diverse ethnic origins have suffered injustices at the hands of incompetent school administrators and teachers? The Minister of Education must require all school boards to undertake concrete measures to combat racism and discrimination in all of its forms, as in Ontario.”

    For Me Missakila, who has worked on the file since 2005, the decision will have serious legal and social repercussions in the education sector, as the CDPDJ recognized the concepts of ethnic stereotyping in learning.

    “We have crossed a new legal frontier in the field of racism in education here in Quebec. This decision will force many schools to review in short order their policies and practices on diversity,” he stated.

    Since the CSMB did not comply with the QHRYRC’s decision by the deadline of February 12, the case will be brought to the Human Rights Tribunal. This is the second human rights decision involving racially discriminatory practices in a CSMB school. In 2009, the school board was brought before the Tribunal by a Montreal family of Filippino origin who claimed discriminatory treatment toward their son because of his custom of eating with a fork and spoon.

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