Advertisement

OCDSB trustees vote for equity coach roles to support Arab, Muslim students

At a committee meeting earlier this week, OCDSB trustees voted unanimously to allocate two positions to support students who identify as Palestinian, Muslim, Arab or Arabic-speaking. (Danny Globerman/CBC - image credit)
At a committee meeting earlier this week, OCDSB trustees voted unanimously to allocate two positions to support students who identify as Palestinian, Muslim, Arab or Arabic-speaking. (Danny Globerman/CBC - image credit)

Trustees with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) voted unanimously at a committee meeting earlier this week to allocate two full-time positions to support Palestinian, Muslim, Arab and Arabic-speaking students.

The move comes after a recent report by the board's human rights and equity adviser recommending the creation of a role to better address issues related to Islamophobia and anti-Arab discrimination.

"Anti-Arab racism, anti-Palestinian racism, Islamophobia in schools. I think all three of those things were a concern to parents," said Aisha Sherazi, a local educator who spoke as a delegate at the meeting.

In her work as a spiritual care worker in OCDSB schools, Sherazi said she's seen these issues first-hand.

Aisha Sherazi is a local educator and spiritual care worker in Ottawa. She spoke as a delegate as the OCDSB's committee meeting on March 19, 2024 about the need for equity coach positions for Arab and Muslim students.
Aisha Sherazi is a local educator and spiritual care worker in Ottawa. She spoke as a delegate as the OCDSB's committee meeting on March 19, 2024 about the need for equity coach positions for Arab and Muslim students.

Aisha Sherazi, a local educator who presented on the importance of allocating these roles, says it’s important for students and staff to have equity coaches to turn to when support is needed. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

"These [are] very difficult situations for students to deal with … and they feel targeted," she said.

Sherazi said having an equity coach on hand can help bridge the gap, especially for what she sees as a lack of services for Muslim and Arab students who come from war-torn countries.

"If you've fled violence and you've fled trauma and you've seen terrible things … it can be very difficult," she said.

Someone with shared lived experience can help provide that nuanced support for students, she added.

According to the OCDSB, 14.7 per cent of the student population identifies as Middle Eastern and 19.3 per cent identify as Muslim.

Staff, families can better address 'difficult situations'

Amy Awad, who also spoke as a delegate at the committee meeting, said she has two daughters and two siblings who attend OCDSB schools.

Awad said she's also heard of instances where students felt singled out in classrooms and unsupported by staff.

"These situations are happening in many schools as we speak. They're not only corrosive to a safe learning environment, but they're also complex," Awad said.

Sometimes families may not have the language skills or the abilities to explain how they feel that they haven't been treated fairly or to describe problems. - Amy Awad, parent of OCDSB students

Equity coaches can help identify training needs, Awad said, and act as mediators between staff, students and their families.

"When difficult situations do arise right now, students feel that they have to address them directly with their school administration," she said.

"Sometimes families may not have the language skills or the abilities to explain how they feel that they haven't been treated fairly or to describe problems."

Organizer Amy Award with the annual I.Lead conference.
Organizer Amy Award with the annual I.Lead conference.

Amy Awad, a parent who spoke at the meeting, says she’s heard of many situations where Muslim and Arab students felt singled out and unsupported by their schools. Equity coaches would be a valuable resource to prevent further incidents, she says. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

Awad also stressed the importance of having two roles, to distinguish between support for Arabic-speaking and Muslim students.

OCDSB trustee Alysha Aziz agreed.

"I think it's important to support both communities because they often overlap and there is often intersection, but they are often not one and the same," Aziz said.

Aziz said there are many Arab-identifying students who aren't Muslim, and not all Muslim students are Arab.

The two positions were approved as part of recommendations to the academic staffing plan for the upcoming school year. The staffing plan will head to a final vote at the upcoming board meeting on Tuesday.