Winnipeg teacher placed on leave after racial slur used in classroom

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The Franco-Manitoban School Division says a Winnipeg teacher has been placed on leave after a social media post that appears to show the educator using a racial slur for Black people in the classroom.

The school division says it condemns all forms of racism.

The remark was made by a teacher at College Louis-Riel senior high school Thursdayand a student's response to it was later uploaded on social media.

"The minute you said that word you did not respect us," a student says to a woman in the video. "The minute that word came out of your mouth you did not respect us at all."

Ramatoulaye Cherif, who is on the board of Parents Against Racism, said the organization has spoken with students who were in the classroom. Cherif said the students alleged the teacher used the slur multiple times.

"It feels very derogatory. It feels dehumanizing," Cherif said.

The school's administration posted a video online in French on Saturday in response to what it called tensions caused by the use of inappropriate vocabulary in the classroom.

The school division said supports were sent to the school to help students. Additionally, the school and the division committed to forming advisory groups of students, parents, staff and communities to contribute to an action plan to tackle racism and other challenges.

"Racism, like discrimination or bullying, are not new phenomena. They were part of the landscape of the first humans on Earth," the division said in a news release Tuesday. "What should also be remembered is that these are not phenomena that are the sole responsibility of the school."

Cherif, whose children attend a different school in the division, said the division should be far beyond making commitments to change.

Parents Against Racism was formed following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, which sparked a global movement around racial discrimination. A police officer knelt on the Black man's neck for several minutes, even as Floyd said he couldn't breathe.

At the same time in Winnipeg, Cherif said many former College Louis-Riel students came forward with accounts of racism at the school, including the use of derogatory terms in the classroom by teachers.

Cherif said the board worked with the school at that time and signed an agreement about commitments to change. But, she said, clearly not enough was done.

"The concrete actions were not there," she said. "Because if you really say you are going to do this, and there is a school teacher that is still saying this word, that means you aren't taking the necessary precautions to help avoid it."

Cherif said there needs to be a clear apology.

She said there must also be an audit of teaching materials and lesson plans. She added that teachers should be trained to understand why using these words, in any context, can cause harm to students.

The Parents Against Racism board said in a statement in French that the incident reflects a normalized culture of racism that hurts students' rights to a safe education. It also called for a clear anti-racism policy to protect racialized students, parents and staff.

"There is no excuse for this happening," Cherif said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2021.