Ottawa administrator argues greater need to support Jewish and 2SLGBTQ students

Nili Kaplan-Myrth also objected to specifically naming the need for a Palestinian support worker because needs change as events develop around the world.

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As Ottawa’s largest school board agreed to assign two “equity support” roles to Muslim, Palestinian, Arab and Arabic-speaking students, one administrator has argued that the need to help Jewish and 2SLGBTQIA+ students is older.

Nili Kaplan-Myrth, a member of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, argued to her fellow board members that the board’s own school climate survey found that Jews and 2SLGBTQIA+ students They felt less of a sense of belonging than Muslim students and the student population as a whole. The 2022 survey collected responses from 78 percent of eligible students.

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Kaplan-Myrth also objected to specifically naming the need for a Palestinian support worker because needs change as events unfold around the world.

“What we’re looking at here is whether or not it’s appropriate to put additional resources into something that is specifically a geopolitical issue that we wouldn’t do for any other country,” he said.

Trustee Justine Bell said the comment was inflammatory, disrespectful and harmful to communities and called on Kaplan-Myrth to retract or rephrase her statement.

Kaplan-Myrth responded that the board had no role in supporting Israeli, Russian or Ukrainian students.

Kaplan-Myrth lost on both fronts. A board budget committee had previously debated the matter on March 19, voting unanimously for two full-time equivalent workers for Muslim, Palestinian, Arab and Arabic-speaking students, and upholding that decision. The two positions would not cost extra money because they will be covered by the existing staff. But the debate raised questions about how capital positions are allocated.

Parents and students who spoke before the board last week urged trustees to support a coach who is both Muslim and Palestinian, Arab or Arabic-speaking.

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“I think we should do this because we need people who can better understand and support Arab and Muslim students and be there for us and support our culture,” said Jana Moughrabi, a student at Longfields-Davidson Heights High School.

“There have been too many cases where students have been victims of scrutiny, cancellation and even racism because of their background, especially recently with Palestinians.”

Ghada Qadan said her son feels disconnected, betrayed and under mental and psychological pressure at school. Students are discouraged from mentioning or saying the word “Palestine” in the classroom, she told administrators.

“It further compounds the pain of Palestinian and Arab and Muslim students in these schools,” he said.

The OCDSB already has two graduation coaches for black students; an instructional coach with a specific focus on supporting Jewish students; three Indigenous graduation coaches and three Indigenous student support coordinators, as well as two student support coordinators who work directly with school communities with a focus on supporting Muslim and/or racialized students.

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The board also has a student support coordinator who specializes in supporting trans and gender diverse students.

In a letter sent to board officials last Wednesday, the Queer Trans Educators Network of OCDSB said 2SLGBTQIA+ students need two equity coaches and the coaches have lived experience as community members.

“In recent years, there has been a drastic increase in open hatred, transphobia, biphobia and homophobia against us.“Our students, staff and the broader 2SLGBTQIA+ community in Ottawa and beyond,” the letter said.

In a Jan. 31 letter to Education Minister Stephen Lecce, the Jewish Federation of Ottawa said the Jewish community, which makes up one per cent of Ottawa’s population, faces the highest rate of hate crimes at 27 per cent. percent, according to figures from the Ottawa Police Service. .

In an interview last week, Kaplan-Myrth said that while he favored a Muslim stock advisor, there was no justification for two positions. She acknowledged that some Palestinian students have experienced trauma due to recent events, but that is not bullying in schools, she said.

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“We have schools with refugees from other countries who have experienced trauma. We don’t offer an equity advisor for every country, from Afghanistan to Ukraine. We have many students who need support. “We don’t know who will need support tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, there was also debate about whether the positions should be “equity coach” – a teacher – or “student support coordinator”, a worker with different skills. The board previously voted to support an equity coach for Jewish students in January 2023.

The OCDSB already has two Muslim student support coordinators, one of whom speaks Arabic. Trustees decided in favor of student support coordinators.

Yasmen Abuzaid, an emergency substitute teacher, told trustees that she did not have any equity advisors to turn to when she was in high school and that she rarely identified as Palestinian because she feared the type of comments she would receive.

“These should be separate positions with separate mandates,” he said. “Arab is not the same as Muslim and vice versa. “We need to make people feel welcome instead of shying away from conversations.”

Religious accommodations in OCDSB schools continue to evolve, said Director of Education Pino Buffone.

“There is one set of human rights in the Ontario Human Rights Code, not several,” he said. “We are in a delicate balance, a continuum that seeks to honor freedom of expression and identity, while balancing where there may be harm to others. It is not easy for us as an organization.”

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