School Boards Say Hate Will Not Be Tolerated During Conflict

The Ottawa Catholic School Board says there will not be any political rallies with hateful messages tolerated at any of its schools in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks on Israel and the ensuing counterstrikes.

“As a Board, we prioritized collaborating with our educators and administrators to guarantee the safety of our students” said OCSB spokesperson Sharlene Hunter. “We aimed to ensure that no harm came to students when they returned to school on Tuesday. We deliberately refrained from making political statements, leaving that responsibility to the Premier and the Prime Minister.”

In May, 2022, students from St. Francis Xavier High School in Riverside South blocked Limebank Road for a pro-Palestinian march. Students carried placards and signs which were deemed anti-Semitic. One in particular accused Jews of killing babies. The march was organized by Palestinian Youth Movement of Ottawa, a group that, according to their website, is a “transnational, independent, grassroots movement of young Palestinians in Palestine and in exile worldwide as a result of the ongoing Zionist colonization and occupation of our homeland.”

Hunter said that any forms of hatred will not be tolerated.

“Our Safe Schools Principal informed our school administrators they could rely on the assistance of the Ottawa Police (OPS) in case of any conflict arising between Israeli or Palestinian students in any of our schools,” she said. “We are committed to ensuring that our students feel safe and secure in their schools and classrooms, and we have made it clear to them that we do not tolerate any form of hatred towards any member of the impacted communities within our schools. Our staff is always available to support our students emotionally if needed.”

St. Francis Xavier Catholic High School students march in a pro-Palestinian rally on Limebank Road in Riverside South May 18, 2022. Close to 300 students took part. (CTV screenshot)

The OCSB issued a statement on Tues., Oct. 10.

“We are deeply saddened by the on-going atrocities of war and terrorism in the Israel-Palestine conflict and the actions of Hamas, which have caused the loss of countless lives. Our hearts go out to all those affected by this conflict. We offer our collective prayers for peace in the region. We will continue supporting our students and staff, ensuring that their learning and work spaces remain safe and welcoming.

“Since this conflict erupted, we shared resources developed by our Mental Health Lead, Dr. Bolduc, Superintendent, Dr. Ehoro, and our Safe Schools Principal, Lisa Cameron, with our Principals. We focused on supporting students and staff as they and the world look for pathways to peace. We continue to work to eliminate all forms of hate in our Catholic schools, including antisemitism and Islamophobia, as we focus on the richness of the diversity in our schools and the dignity of all.”

The OCSB also provided tips and resources for parents on discussing the conflict with their children. These resources aimed to help parents better connect with their children and discuss emotions.

  • Provide accurate information, but avoid overwhelming details. Stick to the facts and use language appropriate for their age. Encourage children/youth to ask questions and express their concerns. Address their questions honestly and without judgment.
  • Acknowledge and validate their feelings and let them know that it’s normal to feel a wide range of emotions (feelings) in response to distressing events (or associated behaviour). Help them differentiate between facts, opinions, and biases.
  • Discuss the importance of peace, understanding, and working towards a better future. Highlight stories of people coming together to promote unity in the community. Promote empathy, tolerance, perseverance, and respect for diverse perspectives. Encourage open-mindedness and understanding of different cultures and viewpoints through hope and resilience.

Hunter added that there are no Palestinian clubs in OCSB high schools.

OCDSB Issues Statement

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board also issued a statement calling for peace in the community.

“We have been following the tragic reports of terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians which quickly escalated to a war between Israel and Hamas, terribly impacting all people living in the region. While this news affects all of us, it is especially difficult for Jewish, Palestinian and Israeli students, staff, and families. These deadly attacks come at a time of rising hate, specific to these communities, in the forms of antisemitism, anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia locally and around the world. We recognize, for the Jewish, Israeli and Palestinian communities, the impacts are deeply personal and devastating.

“We know that world events can impact our own community and schools. As we reopen schools on Tuesday, we will be vigilant in our commitment to ensuring students and staff feel safe, respected and comfortable in their learning and working environments.

“We have been working on resources for schools to support students and families in dealing with impacts from current events and/or periods of rising tension.  Last week, we shared resources with educators to support them in their work to uphold human rights and to protect the humanity of every individual. These will be instrumental in supporting and navigating some of the questions and issues which might arise this week and families might find these resources helpful.

“We are also reaching out to community partners to ensure they know we are here to work with them in support of students, staff, and families. We are not aware of any protests or planned events at schools, and are monitoring this issue carefully. 

“We know that media and social media coverage of traumatic world events can be very distressing, especially for children and teens. We encourage families to monitor media intake.  The following resources provide helpful information for helping children/teens cope with the coverage of catastrophic world events.”