A teacher from Chelsea Elementary School has been removed from her Grade 3 classroom for wearing a hijab and instead has been shuffled into an inclusion and diversity literacy role within the school.
Grade 3 English and homeroom teacher Fatemeh Anvari told the Low Down that the last week has been an emotional rollercoaster for both her and her students after she was told she would no longer be able to teach the class for wearing a religious symbol at work.
“I am at the school today and my students are asking me why I have stopped being their teacher,” Anvari said on the morning of Dec. 7. “This gets me very emotional.”
In a Dec. 3 letter obtained by the Low Down, parents were told by Chelsea Elementary School principal Andrea Gage that Anvari was moved into an “alternate role” at the school. Gage gave no reason to parents for Anvari’s role change.
“Ms. Fatemeh will be moving into an alternate role in the school, one which will focus on a literacy project for all students and will target inclusion and awareness of diversity,” wrote Gage in the letter. “Ms. Fatemeh is a wonderful addition to our school and we are very pleased that she will support this initiative.”
The removal of Anvari from the classroom comes on the heels of a Nov. 10 ruling in which the Montreal English School Board lost its bid for a stay on Quebec’s controversial Bill 21. The bill bans some civil servants, including teachers, police officers, and government lawyers, from wearing religious symbols at work. The school board won a court ruling in April, exempting it from many of the provisions of Bill 21. However, because the province is currently appealing that ruling, school boards across the province, including the Western Quebec School Board (WQSB), must comply with the law until it goes to court, which could take more than a year.
Anvari added that she is very upset about losing her Grade 3 class and is concerned about how this will affect the kids.
"I love Chelsea Elementary School and that is why I am still working there," said Anvari. “Our principal has been very supportive. If people choose to speak up, it will be most effective if they do so about the law and those who agree with it."
She said, however, that she is looking forward to talking to the kids about diversity and inclusion.
"I am working on a new project on literacy and diversity, which I believe is a great chance to address important topics and educate the kids, with the hope that the future won't look like this."
Anvari has been a supply teacher for the WQSB since March and was recruited to teach Grade 3 at Chelsea on Oct. 25. She was generally known to be a kind and caring teacher who took her job seriously. Anvari is currently pursuing a master’s in education.
According to a staff member at the school, who spoke to the Low Down on a promise of anonymity, Anvari is the second teacher to leave Chelsea’s Grade 3 class since the beginning of the school year. The province-wide teacher shortage has made it difficult for Quebec schools to fill vacancies and keep them filled. The loss of Anvari is yet another disruption for Chelsea’s Grade 3 class. The employee said that teachers are supposed to set an example for kids to follow and that this incident sends the wrong message.
“Part of our curriculum in Quebec is ethics and religion,” said the staffer. “We have to teach and assess ethics and religion. So, what is the ethics behind this?”
Some parents informed of the “alternate role change” were angry when they learned the reason behind the removal of their children’s teacher.
“That happened to Ms. Fatemeh?” questioned a shocked Aden Seaton, whose child was in Anvari’s class. (Disclaimer: Seaton is an employee of the Low Down in the advertising department.)
Like many other parents, she received the Dec. 3 letter stating that Anvari’s roles had been shifted, but said she had no idea why. She said it’s “unacceptable” that the school didn’t stand up for Anvari and fight the controversial bill.
“This is the exact opposite of what we want our children to learn,” said Seaton. “This is not the answer.”
The WQSB all but confirmed that Anvari was told she could no longer teach due to her wearing a hijab, but wouldn’t comment on the case specifically.
“The Western Quebec School Board, like all school boards and service centres, are subject to and must comply with provincial laws that regulate employment in the public sector,” wrote WQSB director general Mike Dubeau in an email to the Low Down.
Chelsea principal Andrea Gage did not respond to the Low Down’s calls by press time.