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York school board owes parents a real explanation for principal's Islamophobic Facebook posts

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Image: Facebook/FannyLee.ca

If a principal who posts seemingly xenophobic videos and comments on her Facebook page isn't guilty of professional misconduct, who is? The York Region District School Board (YRDSB) isn't saying.

It's been over two months since the YRDSB first received complaints about Ghada Sadaka, principal of Sir Wilfrid Laurier School in Markham, Ont., who posted contentious messages about Islam and Muslims on her Facebook page. She has since apologized for those comments, saying:

"Upon reflection, I accept that sharing the posts was discriminatory, and should not have occurred. I am committed to improving my understanding of human rights issues, and ensuring that I am more careful, respectful and aware of what I post and share on social media."  

In one post from November 12, 2015, Sadaka shared a "news" video about Muslims wanting to take over Britain and turn Buckingham Palace into a mosque. She added her own comment: "This has to go viral. Share and post! Oh Lord."

In a more recent post, Sadaka shared a photo showing two sets of women -- two in bikinis, three in burqas -- with the caption: "If bikinis are banned in Muslim countries, then burqas should be banned in Europe...Share if you agree."

Sadaka's apology formed part of a statement by YRDSB's Director of Education, J. Philip Parappally, who expressed appreciation for her comments and pledged the incident would be used "as an opportunity to learn and grow."

While this all sounds reassuring, it's important to realize that Sadaka's comments are not simply reflective of one woman's opinion: They represent a growing fear of and hostility toward Muslims in our communities -- and one that's likely to escalate, given Tuesday's Donald Trump's decisive victory in the U.S. presidential elections.

Sadaka's comments are not a freedom of expression issue. No one is saying that educators aren't entitled to hold conservative opinions. Think what you want about the burqa, Islamist terrorism, or the influx of Syrian refugees. You would actually be hard-pressed to find Canadian Muslims who don't share some of your concerns.

What does matter, however, is that educators -- like so many others who work in positions of influence -- are expected to adhere to a code of conduct that reflects and upholds the honour and dignity of their profession, both inside and outside of their workplaces. Sadaka has clearly breached that code.

And while Sadaka more or less acknowledged that breach in her apology, there's still no clarity as to what the outcome of the YRDSB's investigation is -- an investigation they claimed was launched in September. Are Parappally's remarks and Sadaka's apology meant to be the last word on this issue? Does the Board really think parents at Sir Wilfred Laurier will be comforted by a statement of regret?

This case is not unlike the one involving former Richmond Hill Secondary School English teacher Michael Marshall, who was fired by the YRDSB last September after a 10-week investigation into his social media posts. In one Twitter post, Marshall wrote: "I'm sorry but Sharia law is incompatible with my democratic secular nation. You can have it, but keep it over there in backward land." In another, he said: "I get sad when girls I teach decide to wear the hijab. I feel like a failure."

After initial complaints to the board allegedly went ignored, 21-year-old University of Toronto student Zeinab Aidid issued a public call on Facebook for students to share their screenshots of Marshall's derogatory tweets. Only after the post was shared hundreds of times, and after Aidid sent screenshots to the YRDSB directly, did the board take action. But even in that case, the board remained tight-lipped.

"I never even received a response from all the emails I sent," Aidid said. "I understand this stuff is handled internally but just an acknowledgment would have been nice."

There's a noticeable pattern with the YRDSB's approach to receiving complaints about discrimination in the classroom: Take months to deliberate silently without transparency, and then release a terse statement reflecting some sort of reconciliatory action. And so it goes until the next unheeded complaint from a parent makes it into the press.

The YRDSB has lost another opportunity to show that it takes allegations of professional misconduct and discrimination seriously. To do that properly, it must keep parents and community members involved in the process. 

It's telling that Ghada Sadaka is still employed with the YRDSB. Whether she deserves to be there or not is another question.

A version of this article appeared on CBC Opinion.

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Image: Facebook/FannyLee.ca

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