‘I don’t want you to blow up my class,’ teacher said in anti-Afghan comments

TORONTO — A six-month suspension handed to a high school teacher who told a student he didn’t want any Afghans in his class was disappointing, a Muslim organization says.

The licence suspension for Martin Bonello sends the wrong message, Mustafa Farooq, executive director with the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said in a statement.

“The reality is that Mr. Bonello’s remarks devastated the student,” Farooq said. “The fact that a teacher can racially abuse a student, and only face a slap on the wrist, is an insult to the notion of safe and inclusive classrooms.”

Discipline records show the incident occurred at a school in the Peel District School Board just west of Toronto four years ago where Bonello was a construction technology teacher. According to an agreed statement of facts, the teacher told the student, who cannot be identified, in front of others in the classroom:

“I don’t want you to blow up my class,” Bonello said. “No Afghanis in here!”

The upset student left the classroom and later told the vice-principal that he felt singled out and like an “invisible person sitting in the class.” Bonello was suspended with pay pending an investigation.

The issue involving the student was one of several incidents in which Bonello was found wanting. The others include kicking students out of class without explanation and allowing them to wander around unsupervised. The probe also turned up numerous health and safety problems involving him.

The disciplinary hearing, in November, was also told that 12 of 23 workplace inspections between 2011 and 2015 at the school turned up health and safety hazards in Bonello’s woodworking classroom. Those hazards included electrical dangers, obstructed exits, unsafe storage of items, and safety guards removed from machinery. Bonello appeared resistant to making needed changes.

“Investigators concluded the member had a ‘blatant disregard for health and safety recommendations’,” the panel heard.

Similar problems involving Bonello had occurred before. In 2008, he was given a disciplinary letter for leaving students unsupervised and failing to address various safety issues and formally cautioned in 2011. A year later, the board suspended him for five days without pay for various issues, including “inappropriate language” toward students and removing equipment safety guard.

Ultimately, the disciplinary panel found Bonello had engaged in acts of professional misconduct, and lifted his licence for six months as recommended by the college and his lawyer.

“It is unacceptable for teachers to make demeaning comments to their students, and to model that type of insensitive behaviour for their students,” the panel said. “The member’s misconduct was serious and formed a concerning pattern of inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour.”

Bonello, a teacher since 2001, was also given a reprimand and ordered to take remedial courses.

The board initially fired Bonello in October 2016 but he was allowed to resign after a grievance. It was not clear what Bonello has done since. His hearing lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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