Catholic School Trustee meeting abruptly ends after calls from demonstrators to address racism

Nov 27 2019, 10:17 pm

An Edmonton Catholic School Board meeting on Tuesday lasted less than 15 minutes, after trustees cut the meeting short following a silent protest from demonstrators.

Demonstrators, including writer and organizer Bashir Mohamed, are seen in a video recording of the meeting — which has since been unlisted — silently protesting an incident that occurred at an Edmonton Catholic school months prior.

During the meeting, Mohamed held a petition in his left hand, holding his right high in a fist.

The petition, which now has nearly 3,000 signatures, is about Emmell, an 11-year-old Black student at Christ the King school in Edmonton, who wore a durag to school in September, and was asked by his teacher to remove it because of its “gang affiliations.”

Mohamed says he emailed the board a week in advance for the opportunity to speak at the meeting about the incident, but was told there was a 10-day policy on speaking, so demonstrators chose to silently protest instead.

“It’s just frankly disturbing that this issue wasn’t even going to be on their agenda, even two months later, despite this being international news,” said Mohamed in an interview with Daily Hive.

During the school board meeting, Mohamed was asked repeatedly by Board Chair Laura Thibert to put his hand down.

“If you don’t put your hand down, I will ask you to leave,” Thibert repeated twice.

Mohamed silently continued to raise his fist, and Thibert repeated the statement a number of times, before asking him to leave, and calling a recess 13 minutes into the meeting, after more demonstrators silently raised their fists.

“The tone she used, really reminded me of every time growing up, somebody treated me badly and used their power to put me down, so that’s what influenced me to push back a little bit,” said Mohamed.

A security guard then approached Mohamed and asked him to leave the meeting, which he also refused.

The meeting was cancelled, says Mohamed, despite his simple request to silently protest.

“Trustees came back to read off a speaking policy, but I said, ‘I don’t want to speak, I just want to do this silent protest,'” said Mohamed.

According to Mohamed, the situation has been ongoing since September, when the principal of Emmell’s school met with Emmell’s mother, Una.

Una had reached out to Mohamed to help raise awareness about the ongoing issue with the school.

“Durag has nothing to do with gangs, it’s something that’s apart of our culture for centuries now,” Una is heard saying in an audio recording of a meeting with the principal, where she was requesting an apology for the “racial profiling” of her son.

The principal is then heard saying that the teacher is not going to apologize to Emmell, and things at the meeting subsequently escalated when the principal put the school on lockdown, called the police, and banned Una from the school premises for one year.

“The issue of race had no bearing on the actions taken and was NEVER part of the discussion,” says a statement made by the Catholic School Board on October 15.

Following the meeting with Emmell’s mother and the principal, the Edmonton Catholic School District released another statement saying  “the conversation and conduct of the mother quickly escalated and police were called.”

After Emmell’s story was circulated online, the Assistant Superintendent of ECSD offered to meet with Una to discuss the removal of the ban and apologize to both Emmell and Una.

The meeting was ultimately cancelled, because Una requested other members of the community be present, while the assistant superintendent asked to meet alone with him and another school board official.

“Emmell was able to get into another school, but if the senior leadership in his school still stand by a teacher who accused an 11-year-old black kid of being in a gang, then it shows that they are siding with people who choose to racially profile, instead of someone who cares about education of their students,” says Mohamed.

The Alberta Minister of Education met with Una on November 13, but the school board has not yet apologized to Emmell and Una.

“All I did was hold up a piece of paper and hold my hand in the air. If that threatened them enough for security to be called, you have to wonder what happened that day that they said Una made them fear for their safety,” said Mohamed.

“We’re going to show up to the next meeting, and the meeting after that, and the meeting after that and we’re going to keep making this an issue.”

Daily Hive has reached out to the school board for comment and they did not respond by the time of publication.


Emmell and his mother Una. (JusticeforEmmell/Facebook)

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