Employee fired was a ‘scapegoat’ for school board racism review in Mississauga and Brampton: lawyer

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Published August 29, 2023 at 3:27 pm

peel district school board

A Peel District School Board employee was dismissed from her position after years of championing equity.

Poleen Grewal, associate director of instruction and equity support for the Peel District School Board, was fired as a “form of reprisal for calling out the board’s failure to meaningfully advance equity action plans,” according to a media statement from lawyer Paul Champ on Aug. 25.

Champ is widely recognized as a leading authority on human rights and employment law issues.

Grewal spent years “championing equity and anti-oppression initiatives” at the school board, said Champ. He said the board made her a “scapegoat for the Ministry Review that found anti-Black racism at the PDSB.”

Grewal started making headlines in 2016 when she worked on a strategic action plan to support Black students. A CBC story noted she was working to implement mandatory bias and anti-racism training for teachers and other staff.

But she came up against resistance, particularly when she asked teachers to approach Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird through an anti-oppression lens.

She filed a complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal in March 2019 against the school board citing racism, harassment and a poisonous work environment.

On Nov. 27, 2019, the Minister of Education announced a formal review of the Peel District School Board to address concerns about systemic racism. Then a few months later, the province put the board of trustees under supervision after the issues could not be resolved. The supervision ended in January.

In August 2021, Grewal went on voluntary leave following accusations she used her position to help her son secure Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition credits at a Peel high school.

Grewal had maintained she was advocating as a parent for her son.

Through her lawyer, Grewal declined a request for comment but Champ said she was expecting to return to work this summer.

“I can tell you that the dismissal was a huge surprise to her,” Champ said in an email to insauga.com. “She was expecting to return to work on July 4, 2023 after a leave, but was informed instead there would be a meeting with the trustees to consider termination.”

Champ said she was told the main reason for her dismissal was that the results of the Ministry of Education review in 2020 demonstrated she was ineffective at her job.

“That is really upsetting because she alleged in her HRTO (Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario) application in 2019 that the former Director of Education and the trustees were frustrating her efforts to advance equity initiatives and programs at the Board,” Champ said.  “It seems like there is a settling of scores here now that the Ministry supervision is over.”

The Peel District School Board declined to comment on Grewal’s dismissal.

“Administrative personnel matters fall within the confidential purview of our human resources department,” Malon Edwards, manager of communicationsm public engagement and communications for Peel District School Board said in an email to insauga.com.

“As such, Peel District School Board cannot comment publicly on confidential human resource matters.”

Edwards noted that the Peel District School Board has “made significant progress in creating and ensuring inclusive and equitable learning and working environments for all students and staff and remains committed to doing so now and in the future.”

But some people agree with Grewal.

“This is an act of reprisal against Poleen, an ally of Black communities who have dared to speak out against ongoing systemic anti-Black racism in Peel Schools,” Black Lives Matter Peel said in a tweet.

Grewal is currently reviewing her legal options, Champ added.

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