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Edmonton school faces backlash for asking child to remove durag

Last Updated Oct 16, 2019 at 6:32 am MDT

EDMONTON — An Edmonton catholic school is under fire after a black child was allegedly told he had to remove his durag due to “gang affiliations.”

When 11-year-old Emmelle refused he was told that he would not be able to return to class.

His mother Una met with the school’s principal and things escalated when the mother said the principal hit the “panic button.”

The mother was banned from Christ the King Elementary School for her conduct.

Una recorded the meeting, and the audio provided to CityNews paints another picture of how the meeting went.

LISTEN: The full audio recording between Una and Principle Phebe Switzer.

“You don’t see an 11-year-old boy and ask him, ‘Are you affiliated with a gang because of a hair garment?'” Una said during the conversation with Principal Phebe Switzer.

Switzer then responded with, “there are children that are part of gangs.”

Earlier Tuesday, school officials told CityNews “the conversation and conduct of the mother quickly escalated and police were called. The mother was banned for the rest of the school year because of her conduct”.

The school added, “the issue of race had no bearing on the actions taken and was never part of the discussion,” and that “no caps, bandanas or hats are allowed in the school.”

But the boy’s mother claims the audio tells another story, CityNews listened to the entire recording at no point did we hear any threats or screams from the mother.

Instead, you hear the principal repeating the assumption that durags represent gang activity.

Emmelle has not been to school since.

Angela Jackson is the founder of the group Black Culture Cafe. She says the durag stems from when black slaves were told to cover their hair because back then, it was considered offensive.

“Why would they just assume it’s gang-related? That just doesn’t make any sense to me,” Jackson exclaimed. “I think when you don’t know something about a particular culture you should question it and not accuse.”

She says it’s now a symbol of shared experience and mutual understanding.

“Now we take what was meant to be derogatory and we kinda recreate those things to not be a derogatory thing,” she said. “Of course, it’s not religious. It’s cultural.”

Jackson says others use the durag to protect their hair.

As for Una, she’s calling for an apology from the school and for the ban to be lifted so her son can go back to class.

A rally is planned for Thursday.

With files from Rachelle Elsiufi.