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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leads a march to end islamophobia in memory of the Afzaal family in London, Ont., on June 5, 2022.Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press

Canada’s largest school board has decided to develop an anti-Islamophobia strategy, saying the policy is needed to better support Muslim students and their families.

The Toronto District School Board said the new strategy will build on its broader Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism policy, which addresses all forms of hate and discrimination. The move comes after the neighbouring Peel District School Board released an anti-Islamophobia strategy in January.

“Hate crimes against members of the Muslim community have been on the rise in Canada. Many trustees, parents, students, community organizations and advocates have raised concerns around incidents of Islamophobia,” TDSB vice chair Neethan Shan wrote in a statement.

“These incidents have a significant impact on students and their families in the TDSB requiring a more tailored action plan to help support them.”

The 2021-22 annual report from the TDSB’s Human Rights Office found Islamophobia accounted for the second most frequently reported creed-based hate incidents, behind antisemitism.

The board voted unanimously Wednesday night to develop the anti-Islamophobia strategy.

The Council of Agencies Serving South Asians, an advocacy organization that has been urging the TDSB to create a policy that specifically addresses Islamophobia, said it was relieved at the move.

“There’s certain issues and instances of discrimination or oppression that need specific policies, strategies that really look at the impact of that particular hate on that community,” said executive director Samya Hasan.

The organization began advocating for an anti-Islamophobia strategy in 2020, Hasan said, but there have been calls to address the issue in Toronto-area schools for more than a decade, dating back to what she called a dramatic shift in how Muslim students were treated post-9/11.

A recent wave of progressive school trustees elected in October’s municipal elections created an opportunity for her organization to work with the board to push forward on a strategy, she said.

CASSA has asked for the strategy to include training, a review of hiring practices, a curriculum review and mental health supports for Muslim students and teachers.

The strategy should also place a large focus on hiring more teachers and staff to be representative of TDSB’s student population, Hasan said, noting nearly 20 per cent of middle and high school students identify as Muslim as per the last board census.

“The teachers, administration and staff do not reflect that amount of Muslim-identifying students,” said Hasan. “It’s important for students to see those individuals as role models and in leadership positions, so they can learn from them and it really helps boost self-confidence.”

The strategy should also include mechanisms to engage Muslim communities, as well as accountability and success measures, she said.

The TDSB said its staff will begin preparing a report ahead of a fall meeting where they will update school trustees on the strategy’s development.

The move to address Islamophobia comes after the TDSB approved a motion in March to ask the Ontario Human Rights Commission to create a plan to address caste oppression in the public education system. The caste system is a largely South Asian practice of assigning people their social status at birth.

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