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TDSB did not discuss implications of letting 11-year-old face media over hijab story

“We have to take the parent’s lead on this,” TDSB executive Ross Parry said Tuesday. “The parent wanted to speak to media, the parent then engaged with the child. That was between them.”

Two police officers walk around Pauline Johnson Junior Public School in Toronto on Monday, January 15, 2018. A Toronto police investigation has concluded that an incident reported by an 11-year-old girl who claimed her hijab was cut by a scissors-wielding man as she walked to school did not happen.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Two police officers walk around Pauline Johnson Junior Public School in Toronto on Monday, January 15, 2018. A Toronto police investigation has concluded that an incident reported by an 11-year-old girl who claimed her hijab was cut by a scissors-wielding man as she walked to school did not happen.

The Toronto District School Board says it never discussed the implications of allowing an 11-year-old girl to speak to a barrage of reporters after she had made apparently false allegations her hijab had been cut, twice.

It was “not part of the conversation,” TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird told the Star Tuesday.

The TDSB requires that parents or guardians give permission for a person under the age 18 to take part in a media event or availability. “It’s very important that parents and guardians are responsible for this approval,” Bird said.

The 11-year-old’s unusual appearance — victims of crime under the age of 18 are traditionally not identified by police or the media — was allowed by the consent of her mother, according to Ross Parry, TDSB’s executive officer of government, public and community relations.

Parry said the 11-year-old’s mother was asked if she would like to join TDSB spokesperson Shari Schwartz-Maltz for a media appearance. Schwartz-Maltz explained who the media are, that they would be asking questions and that if the mother did not want to answer, she did not have to, Parry said.

Schwartz-Maltz, who stood beside the girl at the Friday appearance, declined requests for an interview.

“At this point I’m still not sure if I’m going to speak further about it,” she wrote in an email to the Star.

The mother was concerned for community safety and for “her own personal despair for what had happened to the family,” Parry said.

She asked her son and daughter if they wanted to join her, Parry said, and they did.

At the Friday media event, held at the Pauline Johnson Junior Public School library, the girl’s mother told reporters she came immediately after getting a call from the school with news of the two alleged assaults against her daughter.

Crying, she expressed that she was glad her daughter was safe and that the community had been so supportive.

“She wanted to address the media,” Parry said. “We have to take the parent’s lead on this … the parent wanted to speak to media, the parent then engaged with the children. That was between them.”

Since Friday, the school has followed up with the family, Parry said. “There is a crisis communication protocol for situations like this.”

Bird said the TDSB is reviewing the day. “As with any situation like this, we’ll look at how the events unfolded to determine if any lessons can be learned,” he said.

The TDSB dispatched Schwartz-Maltz after the initial Toronto Police tweet about the incident, which at 9.33 a.m. relayed a report of an assault at the school involving a man cutting off a student’s hijab.

“We were quite shocked by it and very concerned,” Parry said. “When the school was mentioned in the tweet we all knew we had to have someone there right away.”

By late afternoon, Toronto Police were investigating the incident as a suspected hate crime.

At no point did the TDSB call a press conference, Parry said. Schwarz-Maltz was made available Friday to assist school officials and speak on behalf of the board, he said.

Parry said the events that have unfolded since Friday have been “unimaginable,” and unlike anything the TDSB has dealt with.

“I don’t think we have anything to measure this against.”

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