A Brampton, Ont. mom was shocked to discover that her son had been segregated from his classmates.
For weeks, six-year-old Anelka Edwards had been restricted to a small square, made with masking tape, on the floor of his Grade 1 classroom at Brisdale Public School. The tape, which also limited Anelka to a pie-shaped slice of his shared desk, was used by a long-term substitute teacher to teach him to respect personal space.
The taped-off space where Anelka was restricted to moving during class.
For isolating her son from his classmates, his mother Colene Edwards is condemning the disciplinary tactic as distressing and racially charged.
"We are not looking for special treatment, we just want to be treated fairly," she told CityNews Toronto. "Anelka is the only black student in his classroom and he was segregated from other students."
Edwards discovered the tape at parent-teacher night and couldn't believe the teacher's explanation.
“She [the teacher] said he was getting into other kids' personal space, and he was so big and tall and his arms are long, so she felt he needed this box, this pie shape," she told CityNews. "I asked her ‘Where do the other children play?’ She said, ‘They go around the classroom.’ I said, ‘Can they leave freely?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ So I said, ‘Where does my son stay?’ She said, ‘He stays in the box.’”
The mom said the substitute teacher had called her many times since the first day of school to talk about how "big and awkward" her son is. Anelka is about four-foot-two and hasn't had previous disciplinary issues with other teachers or the principal.
When Edwards told the principal what was happening, he had "no idea" the teacher had been doing it.
Brisdale's principal declined to comment as he was unable to speak on Edwards, her son or Anelka's classroom.
“He is not a child who beats up on other children. He is not a child that misbehaves," the mom told CityNews. "He is like any six-year-old boy. He gets excited sometimes.”
As a result of his mom's investigating, Anelka has been moved to another classroom and the tape has been removed.
Like Edwards, those online who heard what happened to Anelka were outraged.
— Bryn Ludlow (@CreativAge) October 28, 2016
— RussellArcher (@Russellarcher) October 28, 2016
Peel District School Board (PDSB), which represents schools in Brampton, as well as Mississauga and Caledon, finished an investigation into the segregation. In a statement to CityNews, they chose not to comment on race. Only family communication and the strategy used were related to the issue, PDSB states.
Days before news of the boy's plight broke, the same school board released an action plan based on the marginalized experiences of black male students. Of the 87 black youth surveyed, they reported that teachers racially profile in hallways and stereotype them as gangsters. Respondents say they feel like some teachers "expect them to mess up," and are incredulous when they get good grades.
The results mirror what's been found for the educational system at large. Black male youth are disciplined more harshly than other groups, and a Seattle study found that this skewed treatment starts when they're as young as five years old.
In an interview with CityNews Toronto, Anelka says he loves going to the library and seeing his friends at recess.
For Anelka, he's still adjusting to his new classroom, but his treatment in his last one hasn't changed his goals.
When asked what he wants to be when he grows up by CityNews, he says: "A teacher. Because I get to teach everyone."