The N-word has Windsor school on the back foot

Teacher stopped students from playing a song that uttered the word, then she said it in explaining why they shouldn’t do it. Oops! Into the penalty box!

Josh Canty

The Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) is in the middle of an investigation after one of its high school teachers used the N-word twice in school.

A teacher at Kennedy Collegiate Institute in Windsor, Ont., first said the word on Nov. 9 in a class with students present, according to the board. Those students were playing a song that referenced the racial slur, which the teacher — who the board says is a white female — turned off.

“[She] told the students that she did not want to hear the word. Unfortunately, she said the word out loud,” said Josh Canty, superintendent of education – student success, alternative education and equity.

The second instance of the same teacher saying it again happened less than a week later on Nov. 15. Students asked for a “restorative circle” with the teacher to better understand what happened and why she said it,” Canty said.

“She tried to explain what happened, how it happened and unfortunately she said the word again,” said Canty.

Students had the day off Friday for a staff professional activity day. Staff were informed about a new directive that was planned before the incident at Kennedy. The directive strictly prohibits the use of the N-word. Prior to this, it was handled on a case-by-case basis, Canty added.

“The timing is just unfortunate that we couldn’t get it out sooner and maybe the incident at Kennedy might not have happened,” said Canty.

Leslie McCurdy

As chair of The Black Council of Windsor-Essex, Leslie McCurdy said the board’s new directive needs to go beyond a rule within school walls.

“You could say don’t say the word in school, but unless you educate people as to why that word is so heinous, they’re just going to leave school grounds and use it anyway. We have to educate people,” said McCurdy.

Canty admits the board has “a lot of work to do” in addressing anti-Black racism. Part of the work is already underway with the Dismantling Anti-Black Racism strategy, which began in September. It’s a five-year project.

McCurdy is a part of a working group that falls under the strategy specifically looking at the use of the N-word. Her role is to help shape policy that’s ultimately passed onto the implementation committee and the school board.

“To know that it was said it school was not necessarily shocking. It was disappointing, but what is more disappointing is the fact that it wasn’t dealt with immediately by the administration at the school and the school board administration as a whole,” said McCurdy.

After the incident, a number of resources went into the school to support staff and students who were affected.

“We just tried to pour all the love and support we could to the students and the staff who were harmed by the incident,” said Canty.

The public school board wouldn’t say specifically how it’s handling the situation as it’s a personnel issue and the investigation is ongoing.

“When we have a situation so egregious that that nasty, hateful word is used, then it’s anything up to and including termination,” said Canty.

From McCurdy’s perspective, she’s looking for the teacher to make an apology to the students at the school and “maybe some time away” for education about the harmful impact of saying that racial slur.