The OCDSB board of directors assigns two positions to trainers of Muslim and Arab values

The two positions will come from spaces on the existing roster as some members of the resource team leave their roles and return to teaching.

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Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustees voted unanimously to allocate two positions to support students who identify as Palestinian, Muslim, Arab or Arabic-speaking.

The decision came after presentations by three community members to the board, which was contemplating its academic staffing budget for the upcoming school year.

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A recent report from the board’s equity and human rights advisor’s office recommended creating a position for an Arabic-speaking equity advisor to support issues related to Islamophobia and discrimination, Aisha Sherazi said.

“I would like to echo shared concerns about the gaps in our current system with respect to Arabic-speaking students and specifically Muslim students,” he told trustees.

There have been gaps for students arriving from war-torn countries such as Iraq and Syria, said Sherazi, who has been a spiritual care worker at Merivale High School since 2006 and leads workshops with students to reduce stereotypes and prejudices.

“Sometimes children may misbehave or fall behind, and we may not understand why that happens and how we can support that student to help them realize their potential. “This is the difficult task ahead of us: helping students have the support they need to be able to succeed when everything else seems to be going against them.”

The data clearly shows that students of color who live in low-income neighborhoods are among those most likely to be suspended, Sherazi said.

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“If we do not understand our students’ lived experiences, we will not be able to fully support them in achieving success.”

Amy Awad told trustees that she had two daughters and two brothers in OCDSB schools and offered two examples to highlight her concerns.

In one case, he said, a teacher sent a girl who was in the hallway to the office. Only the girl and her two visibly Muslim friends were treated this way, she said.

In the second scenario, a high school history teacher speaking to his students about the conflict in the Middle East said that “any number of civilian casualties is justifiable, given the objective pursued by Israel, and that in any case, proportionality did not exist.” at war,” Awad said.

“These situations are happening in many schools as we speak. Not only are they corrosive to a safe learning environment, but they are also complex.”

Trustee Alysha Aziz argued that the role needed the equivalent of two people, noting that many Muslims did not identify as Arabs and some Arabic-speaking students were not Muslims.

“I think it’s important to support both communities,” he said. “The challenges we’ve heard tonight are immense and I don’t think it’s fair to put such a premium on an FTE (full-time equivalent).”

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The Equity Resource Team works to improve support for diverse students and reviews practices that disadvantage diverse students in schools and the school system.

The board has two graduation coaches for Black students, one 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. students who work directly with school communities with a specific objective. focus on supporting Muslim and/or racialized students. There is also a student support coordinator specializing in support for trans and gender diverse students.

The two positions approved Tuesday night will come from spaces on the existing roster. Each year some members of the resource team leave their roles and return to teaching. There are already two people on the resource team who identify as Muslim and one who speaks Arabic.

There were questions about how to pay for positions if trustees wanted to create new roles under the existing academic staff umbrella. Randy Gerrior, who oversees finances on the board, told trustees he would be hesitant to add new academic positions without knowing how much funding would come from the province.

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The financial outlook for the upcoming school year remains “pretty shaky” and the board does not yet have complete figures. Adding academic positions without knowing the full picture could mean reductions in other areas, Gerrior warned.

The board’s education director, Pino Buffone, said school board staff were very much in favor of meeting the needs outlined to trustees, but urged trustees to ensure there was room for flexibility as new ones emerged. needs.

“If something were to happen in South America next year and we encountered incoming students… our ability to pivot to address those needs becomes increasingly difficult,” Buffone said.

“With each fragmentation of supports, there is less and less ability for flexibility if the district needs it over time.”

Trustees voted unanimously to assign the two positions.

Aziz said that as a student, she found it difficult to explain to teachers that she was fainting during gym class because she was a Muslim student and fasted during Ramadan.

“As a Muslim graduate of this board, I am grateful to support this type of change that is so necessary,” she said.

In January 2023, the trustees supported Hire a Jewish equity coach to help combat rising anti-Semitism in schools after Jewish organizations, parents and students warned that a rise in anti-Semitism was being reflected in schools.

The decision came after two students at Sir Robert Borden High School were charged with hate crimes in connection with a December 1, 2022 incident in which two Jewish students at the school were allegedly showed a swastika and were subjected to a Nazi salute.

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