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Canadian Peel School Board apologizes to banned Nigerian-born community activist, Peter Orughu, for ‘anti-Black racism’

By Kristin Rushowy, Queen’s Park Bureau, The Peterborough Examiner, September 23, 2020

The Peel school board has publicly apologized to a leader in the Black community and acknowledged that banning him from all of its properties was racist.

In a notice sent out Wednesday, the board said it “extends apology to community leader Idris Orughu for acts of discrimination and anti-Black racism.”

The board, it added, “is taking many steps in its efforts to dismantle anti-Black, African and Caribbean racism and achieve racial equity. One of these important steps is to acknowledge past mistakes to enable reconciliation.”

Orughu told the Star in phone interview that he welcomes the apology, and that “it tells us that the board is ready and willing to turn a different page.”

However, he added, “there is still a lot of work to be done … it will take awhile, and we want to see action. This gesture tells us that the current leadership are willing to hear us, acknowledge the wrong that was done … and work with the community.”

In March, the Peel District School Board — the second largest in the province — issued a trespass notice against Orughu, saying “he engaged in disrespectful communication towards members of the board of trustees on Feb. 11, 2020, and made harassing and threatening comments on Feb. 25, 2020 to members of the board of trustees, requiring the intervention of Peel Regional Police.”

Orughu said he was not told what he was alleged to have said, or did. Police did not lay any charges, and no one heard any such threats — nor did he make any, Orughu said.

The Peel board has been under provincial supervision since June, after Education Minister Stephen Lecce sent in three investigators to probe allegations of racism and dysfunction.

The reviewers heard accounts of anti-Black and Islamophobic incidents in schools, and found that Black students were suspended at much higher rates than other students for dubious reasons such as “wearing a hoodie.” Black students were also more likely to be placed in non-university-stream courses and discouraged from post-secondary education, the report found.

The report said senior administrators and trustees knew of the problems, but did not act.

Lecce issued 27 specific orders to the board, then sent in a human rights and employment lawyer to investigate why little progress had been made.

Having lost all confidence, he then appointed Bruce Rodrigues, a former director of education and head of the standardized testing body EQAO, to run the board as a provincial supervisor.

On Wednesday, Rodrigues said the board “extends an apology to Mr. Orughu. The issuing of the notice of trespass and contacting the Peel Regional Police were acts of discrimination and anti-Black racism … (The board) recognizes and apologizes on behalf of senior leadership for the impact of that trespass letter on Mr. Orughu’s advocacy efforts to change education policies that perpetuate anti-Black racism and oppressive practices.”

At Queen’s Park, Lecce said it was “most regrettable” the way the Peel board treated Orughu.

“To be kicked out, to be targeted for opposition (to anti-Black racism) … is contrary to the values of democracy, decency, and civility, which we need,” said Lecce. “So I welcome the decision by the board, by the superintendent, to express … a wholehearted apology … to that gentleman.”

Lecce said the new leadership is finally addressing the challenges in the province’s second largest school board.

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“There’s a lot of healing that must be done … to build confidence and rebuild credibility with a variety of affected communities, the Black community most notably,” he said.

Orughu and other advocates are now appealing to Lecce to keep Rodrigues in place as supervisor until the next municipal election in 2022, given there is no trust with the current trustees or senior staff and that it will “take time to disentangle the harm that has happened.”

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