The Western Quebec School Board said it should never have hired teacher Fatemeh Anvari, who was removed from her Chelsea Elementary Grade 3 classroom in early December for wearing a hijab.
WQSB interim chair Wayne Daly said that the school board’s human resources department did not know that Anvari wore a hijab when they hired her as a supply teacher in March and that the school board simply “corrected the problem” when they told her she could no longer teach at the school.
“HR was unaware that she was wearing it; otherwise, we would have complied with the law. It was a mistake,” said Daly. “[WQSB] made a mistake in hiring her.”
Anvari taught as a supply teacher at the school from March until late October, when she was recruited as a full-time Grade 3 teacher. Just over five weeks later, Anvari, who students, staff, and parents adored, was removed from the class for violating Quebec’s Bill 21, which bars teachers and other civil servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols at work.
Anvari previously told the Low Down that she was “overwhelmed” with support from parents, students, and staff at the school. Parents in Chelsea led a protest in front of local MNA Robert Bussière’s office on Dec. 14 and launched a letter-writing campaign as a show of solidarity for Ms. Fatemeh. They also left scores of green ribbons – her favourite colour – and messages of support on the fence surrounding the school. Students drew cards and notes commenting on how they thought Ms. Fatemeh’s hijab was “awesome.”
Anvari said she was moved to see “how loving the community is and how safe I feel here with everybody’s support.”
She has since been moved into an “inclusion and awareness of diversity” literacy role within the school.
Daly said that while the WQSB disagrees with the controversial bill, the board must comply with provincial legislation.
“We, under the law, corrected the problem that was there, not that we agreed with it,” he said. “The problem here is the government; it’s not us.”
He added that he doesn’t like the message that the controversial law sends to Western Quebec [School Board] students.
“We have kids in our schools, one of them being in that school, that wears [a religious symbol] and if she admires a teacher and wants to be a teacher, well, we have just told her, ‘No, you can’t do that here.’”
Anvari’s removal from class came 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.
English school boards won a court ruling in April, exempting them from many of the provisions of Bill 21. However, because the province is appealing that ruling, all schools must comply with the law until it is heard at the appeals court.