Students and parents disturbed after teacher at TDSB in Parkdale wore blackface to class


A teacher at Parkdale Collegiate Institute is under investigation after arriving to class on Friday wearing a blackface as part of a Halloween costume.

In a letter sent Saturday night to parents and students at Parkdale Collegiate Institute – and shared with the Star – principal Julie Ardell called the incident “racist and dehumanizing.”

“As you know many of the staff and students were in disguise for Halloween, but late in the morning a number of students alerted the assistant principal that a white staff member was in ‘Blackface’,” he said. she wrote.

“Caricatures of people’s race or culture are inappropriate and are offensive and hurtful.”

The teacher, identified to The Star by parents, students and the TDSB as Gorian Surlan, is placed on home duty until an investigation is completed, Ardell said in the letter.

“As soon as the incident was brought to our attention, we took immediate action to address it, including asking the staff member to wash their face immediately so as not to cause further damage,” she said. writing.

Ardell adds that she recognizes and regrets the harm the incident has caused the community and that the school “needs to do more” against anti-black racism. She also explains that anti-black racism, including blackface, is against the school’s code of conduct and that staff or students can face “serious consequences” if they engage in this behavior.

However, community members the Star spoke to said the school did not act quickly enough to remove Surlan after students alerted the administration to the incident.

Two grade 9 students who were in business class at 9:30 a.m. and several parents told The Star they were deeply troubled by the incident and called on the Toronto District School Board to hold the teacher to account.

“I was devastated, I was shaking. I can’t believe it, there is no excuse in 2021, in Toronto, in Parkdale, for a teacher to make a ‘mistake’, if that’s what somebody wants to call it, ”said Liz Ikiriko, an art curator whose 14-year-old son Otis is in the class.

“My son was really upset. Grade 9 is really tough… It’s such a transitional year and we’re in a pandemic… I just can’t believe in the middle of it all, it’s another thing kids navigate too, ”said Ikiriko , who identifies as biracial and Nigerian.

“He was really shaken up,” she said.

In photos sent to the Star by the parent of another student, who does not want to be named for fear of being targeted for speaking, Surlan is wearing black face paint.

The Star contacted Surlan early Saturday afternoon but has yet to receive a response.

The blackface incident comes as an educator at another school in the Parkdale neighborhood, Queen Victoria Public School, received an anonymous racist hate mail on October 22, targeting her for being black. The school board’s human rights office and Toronto police are investigating, the board said in an Oct. 28 letter.

A report from the TDSB human rights office released earlier this year also pointed out that the council has a “serious” problem with anti-black racism and that most complaints to the office relate specifically to anti-black racism. .

Ikiriko’s son Otis told The Star that his entire class was shocked when they saw Surlan in blackface. The students asked him directly what his Halloween costume should be.

“He got really defensive. He said ‘I thought it would look cool,’ ”Otis said. “I think it’s so immature, and as a teacher too, I was really shocked. I didn’t know what to do at the time, I didn’t know if I was going to leave.

The students then headed to the gymnasium for what they described as a meeting with other grade 9 students.

“He was there with a hundred students and other teachers,” he said. “I think the other teachers took him very cold, way too cold to be honest. They should have told him to kidnap it or leave.

The TDSB told the Star Sunday afternoon that the school held small group mentoring sessions for students at different locations in the building that day.

Otis said his class included other black students and it was upsetting and offensive to see their teacher behave this way. “I come from my mother’s side of black culture, and I think that has offended me personally. I really didn’t understand what he was thinking.

He also said his classmates reported the incident to the office that morning, but were told Surlan was likely dressed as a ghoul or a zombie.

Ikiriko said her son must have spoken to other students as well who thought he was overreacting to blackface, which was a challenge.

The TDSB must create faster consequences for these problems, she said.

Over the past year and a half, the TDSB has implemented new policies regarding anti-black racism and creating a better learning environment. A new policy that came into effect in late October 2020 regarding reporting and responding to anti-black racism required that all hate incidents be reported to the Schools Human Rights Office. Within 24 hours.

Ikiriko said she spoke to the school principal on Friday.

“I was really moved and said someone better call me back immediately. The administrator didn’t seem to know what I was talking about but it was 2pm,” she said, adding that this was long after the teacher had been walking around in blackface all day. Ikiriko said the principal, Ardell, assured her that the superintendent had been informed of the incident.

“I said I’m not interested in excuses where [he] can say it’s a big mistake and then be back in class, ”she said. “There are so many levels of evil that have happened.”

The Star also spoke to another parent and student in the class, who took the photos of the teacher, which The Star is keeping anonymous due to concerns about backlash.

In photos provided to The Star by a grade 9 student at Parkdale CI, teacher Gorian Surlan wears Blackface in class on October 29.

The student said the teacher would not give the class an explanation for the blackface. “It was really uncomfortable for me, and a lot of the kids were really insulted, and I thought it was just disgusting,” he said.

Parent Cathy Gatlin has a son in Parkdale CI and said she heard about the incident on Friday from other parents. She sends an open letter to the school calling for anti-black racism in school and encourages other parents to sign.

Gatlin went to school on Friday afternoon to ask to discuss it. She said the secretary was not aware of the problem.

“The deputy director came out and said ‘yes, we asked him to wash up.’ I was like, ‘but I feel like there needs to be more going on here,’ ”she said.

One issue the human rights office addressed in the February 2021 report is that a backlog of complaints remains in their system and needs to be resolved more quickly.

“There has to be more responsibility,” Gatlin said. “I wish there was a very easy anonymous way for a child to solve this problem, because no child should have to sit in a classroom and feel so uncomfortable in this situation. It’s not acceptable.

“It needs to be sorted out faster,” she said.

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