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Waterloo Catholic school board provides progress update after police called to remove 4-year-old

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An incident that sparked a flurry of controversy just over a year ago is back in the spotlight.

At Monday night’s Waterloo Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) meeting, trustees received an update on the board’s progress on recommendations outlined in a review of a November 2021 incident that saw a four-year-old Black child removed from a Kitchener school by police.

WCDSB director of education Tyrone Dowling says they've achieved some of the recommended targets following a provincial review. This includes making a plan to communicate with families when students when incidents occur as well as working to attract more diverse applicants for open positions.

"I would say this is a process that's going to take time," said Dowling. "It's something that we are committed to."

The recommendations from the province include hiring Black consultants and professionals and amending staff policies to ensure racism and forms of discrimination are subject to disciplinary measures.

"It's high time that there's fair and true representation in all areas of our lives," said Fadhilah Balogun of the African Women's Alliance of Waterloo Region. "For us, it's not just about hiring Blacks, but making sure teachers have the right mindset to deal with our young ones, because they can either make or break these children."

The province recommended the steps be completed within a year.

"In a year, it's hard to see that turnaround in terms of those physical bodies in our schools," said Dowling. "The [province's] assistant deputy minister was aware of that and has said to me they're willing to work with us on this."

The board expects to see another report from the province in Apirl of 2023. At that time, they'll determine if it will become an annual report or if they will need to look at their equity practices on a larger scale.

The Monday meeting was the first full board meeting since its delayed election results were confirmed.

FALLOUT FROM POLICE BEING CALLED ON FOUR-YEAR-OLD

Community advocates spoke out about the incident in February.

“Mom is traumatized. Mom is heartbroken. Not only has the school failed the boy, it has failed the mom,” Fidelia Ukueje, president of the group Nigerians in the Region of Waterloo, told media, standing in front of the school board office on Feb. 23.

Ukueje said the family was devastated after police were called to John Sweeney Elementary School in Kitchener to remove their four-year-old son who was said to be “in crisis.”

“In their own language, he was just too active,” Ukueje said.

Two days later, Lecce called it “unacceptable” and launched a review.

“No child in this province or country should have police called on them,” Lecce told CTV News on Feb. 25.

At first, the then director of education Loretta Notten said sometimes calling the police is a necessary course of action.

“I will take umbrage to the allegation that there is systemic racism in our board,” Notten told reporters following a Feb. 28 board meeting.

Notten took that statement back a week later and issued an apology, but some advocacy groups weren’t impressed.

“Right now, this is lip service, and we don’t want that,” Lena Thibeh co-founder of the Black Parent Council KW said.

In April, the school board said it would immediately begin implementing some of the 14 recommendations that came from the provincial review, despite continued criticism from some who said they spoke to the family involved.

“They went above and beyond to satisfy the narrative that they have in their minds about this little child – a four-year-old, a toddler – and criminalized this child,” said Charline Grant, co-founder of the group Parents of Black Children.

In the summer, the family filed a lawsuit against the school board seeking $1 million in damages plus court costs. The suits statement of claim alleges the board discriminated against the student because of his race and cognitive impairment and failed in its duty to properly care for him.

“He was told that he was not allowed to play with the other children, and he was routinely segregated from the class in a separate isolation room,” the suit alleges.

With reporting from CTV Kitchener's Hannah Schmidt

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