West Island News
Incident During Anti-Racism Presentation At St-Thomas High School
"To hear an educator use such incredibly vulgar and profane language in front of children attending a large online assembly was shocking and upsetting."
By: Kristofer Artuso & Dario De Felice
Thursday afternoon, a virtual 'Action Week Against Racism' presentation being given to St-Thomas High School students by Overture With The Arts (OWTA), was abruptly disrupted when one of the school's teachers interrupted the presenter, Omari Newton, and "accosted them using profanities." Akilah Newton, Founder and Executive Director of OWTA wrote in a statement that "This unfortunate exchange was audible to students. To hear an educator use such incredibly vulgar and profane language in front of children attending a large online assembly was shocking and upsetting."
Overture With The Arts, a West Island NPO that allows young talent to pursue their passion in the performing arts has been hired by the Lester B. Pearson School Board to give virtual presentations in their high schools as part of the board's commitment to anti-racism and anti-discrimination.
West Island News obtained a letter sent to parents of St-Thomas students directly from Director General, Cindy Finn's office. Finn stated"As an educational institution, we recognize people’s rights to express their opinions on a range of issues. We also recognize that there is a time and place for these discussions, and they must be conducted respectfully. Today’s comments by the staff member were inappropriate, unprofessional, and most importantly, disrespectful towards to our guest presenter. It was wholly inappropriate for an exchange of this nature to take place during an assembly with students."
She continued by saying "We realize that the employee’s comments upset many students and staff. I can assure you that we intend to follow up on this incident swiftly and pursue appropriate action with the employee. We sincerely apologize for the distress this incident may have caused your child. Rest assured we will continue to do the necessary work across our system to promote diversity, equity, and inclusivity."
In her statement, Newton said "We do not hold the LBPSB accountable for the inexcusable actions of this individual. We would, however, be remiss if we did not express our profound disappointment that this learning opportunity was compromised by a staff member who chose to disrupt an anti-racism presentation to centre their own personal politics."
West Island News reached out to the Lester B. Pearson School Board for their comments: "The behaviour and comments made by a staff member who was participating in a virtual assembly yesterday on the origins and implications of the use of the N-word at St. Thomas High School were inappropriate and disrespectful. Throughout the week Mr. Omari Newton presided over more than a dozen assemblies on the subject of the N-word at different Lester B. Pearson School Board that were extremely well received by staff and students and we are very proud of our collaboration with Overture With The Arts. Many students said they found the content of the presentation to be extremely eye-opening in terms of the history of the N-word as well as its use in popular culture. We realize the staff member’s comments upset many students and staff and the board is addressing the matter through the appropriate channels. We regret any distress this incident may have caused members of our community and will continue to do the necessary work across our board to promote diversity, equity and inclusivity."