Students and parents were left in complete shock after a high school teacher working at Parkdale Collegiate Institute in Toronto arrived in blackface makeup for their Halloween celebrations.
A Grade 9 student captured photos of the teacher, Gorian Surlan, wearing blackface as he stood before his business class teaching. When asked immediately about his costume by confused students, Surlan stated he didn’t have an idea for his Halloween costume, so he decided to paint his face black.
“He got really defensive. He said ‘I thought it would look cool,’” Otis Ikiriko, a biracial and Nigerian ninth grade student present in the classroom, told The Toronto Star.
Though Surlan was immediately asked to wash his face and was sent home on paid leave, students and parents are still asking for more accountability and action to be taken within the Toronto District School Board and demanding a thorough change within their policies regarding hate and racial discrimination for both teachers and students.
“Caricatures of peoples’ race or culture are not appropriate and are offensive and hurtful,” wrote Julie Ardell, the principal for Parkdale Collegiate Institute, in a letter sent to parents regarding the teacher’s appalling blackface.
A report was filed with the board for TDSB’s Reporting and Responding to Racism and Hate Incidents Involving or Impacting Students in Schools Procedure. Ardell said due to the investigation, the teacher was put on home assignment pending the outcome.
Ardell’s letter continued, “On behalf of Parkdale CI, I acknowledge and regret the harm this incident has caused to students, staff and families and our shared school climate. While we have begun the work of addressing anti-Black racism and all forms of discrimination, it is clear that we must do more.”
Although parents commended the swift action taken by Ardell, many were still left wondering how this was able to happen. “How was it allowed to go on for that long?” Leila Sarangi, a parent with kids at Parkdale Collegiate, told the Star. “That he could get through the front doors and into the classroom and teach for however long he taught is just shocking.”
Sarangi and fellow Parkdale Collegiate parent Cathy Gatlin wrote a letter to Superintendent Debbie Donsky demanding further accountability from the TDSB, which has now become an open petition.
The petition has 781 signatures as of noon on Monday, and provides details of the incident as well as recommendations for the TDSB regarding systematic action against racism.