Mississauga student trustee candidate demands recognition of Persian Heritage Month in schools


Published March 15, 2023 at 2:29 pm

A Grade 11 student is disappointed that the Peel District School Board (PDSB) has deferred his request for formal recognition of Persian Heritage Month for consideration for next year, a move he calls exclusionary and oppressive. 

“They’ll only consider it for next year, not this year. [It’s like they’re saying] you don’t matter this year, but you might not be oppressed next year if the committee agrees on it. Persian Heritage Month has already been declared [by the Province],” Michael Valizadehzare, 16, told insauga.com.

The PDSB evaluates requests for heritage and cultural recognition days and months each year and, if they are approved, implements them the following school year.

The PDSB operates schools in Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon.

Valizadehzare, a student at Steven Lewis Secondary School in Mississauga who is running to be the next student trustee for the board, says he asked the board to recognize the month in February of this year. 

The Ontario government proclaimed March Persian Heritage Month about two years ago. According to the Persian Heritage Month Act (Bill 271), the bill received royal assent in June 2021. March was selected because people of Persian heritage celebrate Nowruz–the beginning of the new year, the vernal equinox and spring in the northern hemisphere–this month.

This year, Nowruz falls on March 20.

Valizadehzare told insauga.com that Soni Gill, superintendent of education with the PDSB, brought forward his request and was informed that it would be considered this spring and, if approved, rolled out next year. 

In an email to Valizadehzare sent on Feb. 21, Gill said that one of the board’s equity-focused superintendents told her that a committee would review his request and “follow up.” 

Valizadehzare told insauga.com that he found that response “rude.” 

“With all the global events happening in Iran, this should be represented in the PDSB,” he says, adding that he hosted a workshop to educate staff and students about issues impacting Iran and the Iranian diaspora. 

The PDSB confirmed that it would evaluate the request for official recognition of Persian Heritage Month in the coming weeks.

“The purpose of each Month of Recognition is to celebrate the work of creating culturally sustaining learning environments that happens year-round and affirms students’ intersectional identities,” a board representative said in an email to insauga.com.

“While the Months of Recognition provide one opportunity to ‘spotlight’ an identity for a month, every opportunity should be taken to affirm students’ identities throughout the year and throughout all curricular areas.”

The board said that each spring, an Equity Committee reviews requests for Months of Recognition and Days of Significance to “inform the development of the calendar for the upcoming school year.”

“This process allows us the time to consult and engage our community partners and employee resource groups to prepare appropriate teaching resources and supports that will be used for classroom discussions across all grades,” the representative said. 

“Student voice is paramount, and we appreciate the time students take to advocate for recognition days and months. The committee looks forward to reviewing this request through our established process.” 

As of now, the PDSB celebrates Asian Heritage Month, Jewish Heritage Month, Indigenous Heritage Month, Hindu Heritage Month, Islamic Heritage Month, Sikh Heritage Month, Tamil Heritage Month, Latinx Heritage Month, Irish Heritage Month, Christian Heritage Month and Hellenic Heritage Month. 

Valizadehzare says the month should be recognized immediately since Persian students are worried about loved ones dealing with the Iranian government’s violent crackdown on protestors and women’s rights advocates. 

“The teachers in my school all support me for this and they attended my workshop [this month]. In the workshop, we talked about global issues and events happening in the world and, more specifically, Iran and how we can help students overcome their mental health crises.” 

Valizadehzare refers to protests launched in September 2022 in response to the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died in custody after being detained by Iran’s morality police. 

“Teachers made t-shirts with images of Amini,” he says. 

“March 20 is Persian New Year and the reason I want to celebrate is because of everything that’s happening. It’s important to stand with people in Iran. My grandmother is there and she hears gunshots. There are tanks in the streets. Imagine how this impacts Persian students in the PDSB, not being represented.” 

At a recent community engagement meeting hosted by the board, Valizadehzare voiced his concerns about his request being deferred. 

“One thing that’s important about community engagement is recognizing Persian Heritage Month. As a Persian person, I have personally experienced feeling marginalized and oppressed when the board refused to declare Persian Heritage Month,” he said. 

“There are not a lot of Persian students in the PDSB, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to be left out and for our identities not being represented in schools. And after all, the PDSB framework talks about putting each student’s identity and representing it in a learning environment.” 

Valizadehzare told insauga.com that representation is important for students’ mental health. 

“I believe everyone came to Canada by sacrificing something. It’s important to have our identities and cultures represented in our society. Celebrating it or having teachers just talk about it, it’s important.”

“I hear my grandma talking about gunshots all the time. No one at school knows what my problems are and I email the superintendent and [I’m told I won’t be] represented this year and maybe won’t be next year. I want my identity represented.” 

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