Ottawa high school students petition to remove principal over alleged racism

Students at Hillcrest High School in Ottawa took part in a walkout after some students say they have been victims of racist treatment. Allegations of racism have been swirling at the school for months and now the Ottawa Carleton District School Board is investigating the incidents.

“It’s clear to students that they’re not getting the same treatment as their white peers,” Mae Mason, an Asilu Collective Board Member, said. 

Asilu Collective is a community organization that seeks to end a program that puts police officers in schools; they also run an anonymous reporting tool and say numerous black and racialized students have submitted statements to them alleging racist behaviour by staff at Hillcrest High School.

Multiple students, who asked not to be named, tell CTV News the situation has worsened since the arrival of a new principal in February.

“The first week that the new principal came to our school, I was followed by her in the hallway. She came up to me and said that I did not look like I’m dressed for school and I don’t have a school bag,” one 18-year-old Hillcrest High School student wrote in a statement to CTV News Ottawa.

“She waited outside the washroom for me and she followed me to my class. [A] couple weeks later she told me that I’m better off at adult high school and that I am influencing other kids to get in trouble and not [taking] school seriously,” they continued.

The student says they later transferred to online schooling to avoid further confrontations with the principal.

Mason says Asilu has received multiple reports from racialized students that school administration is following students through the hallways and even into the washroom.

“She sent my cooking teacher into the washroom and he started to shake the stall door and told me to get the f—— out,” a 15-year-old current student told CTV News.

“I came out of the washroom and [was] sent to the principal’s office where she asked me to take off my shoes and socks to see if I have (sic) a vape hiding somewhere. She did not find anything but I was suspended for a couple of days because she said I was acting suspicious at school,” they continued.

The student added they are a new transfer to the school and are concerned about coming back next year.

“It really just tells students that they are seen as criminals, seen as troublemakers, seen as an other, before they’re seen as a student who is trying to learn,” Mason said. 

In one report to Asilu Collective, a student says the principal followed them through the hallway and, “made me show her my pockets that I was not going to vape…I wanted to use the washroom.”

Ottawa Bylaw Services confirms to CTV News that they have been called to Hillcrest High School for reports of vaping and on June 17 issued fines for doing so on school property.

CTV News spoke with multiple sources who say the student, who was fined nearly $800, is black and was targeted due to her race.

Muslim students also alleged instances of discrimination. One student telling CTV News they felt questioned whenever they took part in daily prayers.

“I would be questioned on how long I took. I was told my prayer should take three minutes and I had unexplained time outside of the class that she will look into the cameras to find out where I was,” the student wrote.

Now there are two petitions calling for the removal of the principal.

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board says they are aware of the petitions and taking the allegations seriously.

“The concerns raised have signaled to us that there are some students who do not feel that they have a voice,” Darcy Knoll, a spokesperson for OCDSB, wrote in an emailed statement.

“Moving forward and into the next school year, we will be working to connect with students to work together to learn and grow forward. We want to listen to them to better understand their concerns, and work together to co-create an environment to respond to their needs.”

Advocates say work needs to move quicker, warning that delays over the summer could lead to more alleged incidents in the new school year.

An investigation by the school board is underway, and multiple sources tell CTV News students are now speaking with the board’s Human Rights and Equity Advisor.

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