St. John Henry Neuman Catholic Secondary School in Stoney Creek, Ontario. Google Street View

School board under fire over assault on Black girl

  • May 25, 2022

An apparent racial assault on a Grade 9 Black girl who was spit on and punched in the face has parents and equity groups fuming at the inaction of Hamilton-Wentworth’s Catholic District School Board.

Video viewed by The Catholic Register shows the 14-year-old student in a washroom of St. John Henry Newman Catholic Secondary School in Stoney Creek. The room is full of female students who appear to be non-Black. A white student spits in the girl’s face and throws punches at her.

A 17-year-old and a 14-year-old were charged with assault causing bodily harm following the Dec. 6 violence. As part of a school safety plan following the incident, the student who was assaulted has had her access to the school restricted to a single door. She has been asked to avoid communication with other students. She has stayed home from school for about a month out of fear for her safety, her family says.

Kojo Damptey, executive director of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, says he finds it incredible that as recently as May 11, the school’s principal said  she didn’t believe the incident was racially charged.

“When you look at that video, obviously it was an incident that was racially motivated,” Damptey says.

“For them to not know that is just mind boggling. When you have system leaders and principals who can’t see this, what other incidents have happened in the schools that they didn’t see? This is why we are concerned for the safety of Black students, and Indigenous students, and other racialized students.”  

In fact, the student’s family reported that weeks of bullying began a month into the school year and culminated in the pre-Christmas assault. The family says the violence was reported to the school by the student, who complained of a headache. Her father took her to hospital where she was diagnosed with a concussion. The family notified police.  

Charline Grant, co-founder and chief advocacy officer with Parents of Black Children, has been supporting the family since the incident. She was present at the in-person May 11 meeting with director of education David Hansen and other board and school administrators, and for a May 20 virtual follow-up. She calls both discussions disappointing.

“They asked us to share what we would have liked a safety plan to look like and I said, ‘Create a safety plan as if a 14-year-old white girl was assaulted by a group of Black girls,’ ” Grant said. “Create a safety plan that actually protects the victims, not one that further victimizes or criminalizes her.”

Pat Daly, chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, said in a statement that although there could be no comment on specific disciplinary matters, the board takes the allegations of racism seriously.

Daly said the board is committed to eradicating racism to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students, staff, families and the wider community. He expressed appreciation for the concerns and recommendations brought forward by the family and community groups.

“We are committed to listening and learning from those with lived experiences of racism,” Daly said. “We are also committed to working with them in support of students and families in our community.”  

The Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion last year released a report that found eight out of 10 Black students in the region’s schools reported experiencing anti-Black racism and felt unsafe at school. A survey by the Community Safety and Well-Being Action Plan for Black Youth in Hamilton found 60 per cent of Black students in the Hamilton Catholic board report feeling unsafe at school.

Based on input from students, parents and caregivers, the report proposed 11 recommendations and said educational stakeholders and institutions must act with urgency. Damptey says little to nothing has been done. In meetings regarding other incidents of anti-Black racism, he says, board executives have struggled to acknowledge the issues of racism, and don’t seem to understand what anti-Black racism is.

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