blackface teacher

Toronto teacher who showed up to school in blackface has finally been fired

The now-infamous "blackface teacher" of Toronto's Parkdale Collegiate Institute has formally been dismissed, TDSB officials confirmed on Wednesday, more than two weeks after showing up to work in a racist Halloween non-costume.

Gorian Surlan, who taught a Grade 9 business class, was immediately put on home assignment pending an investigation after coming to school in blackface on Oct. 29.

Students of the west-end high school reportedly took no less than 11 photos of Surlan in blackface that morning, later telling their parents that he had brushed off their complaints and explained that "he didn't have an idea for his Halloween costume, so he decided to paint his face black."

In a change.org petition signed by more than 3,500 people, one parent accused Toronto District School Board Superintendent Debbie Donsky of failing to ensure an environment free of discrimination and anti-Black racism.

"We understand that the teacher was removed from class, told to wash his face and sent home on paid leave pending an investigation. We commend the Principal for listening to the children who came forward to complain and acting swiftly," reads the petition, authored by parent and educator Cathy Gatlin.

"However the protocols are not enough. It was traumatizing to the children who were in the classroom, and unfair that the responsibility was on them to document with photos and come forward to complain."

Parkdale Collegiate's principal, Julie Ardell, condemned the teacher's actions in a letter to the school community on Oct. 30 as "racist and dehumanizing," noting that "caricatures of peoples' race or culture are not appropriate and are offensive and hurtful."

Ardell confirmed that a report had been filed, per the TDSB's Reporting and Responding to Racism and Hate Incidents Involving or Impacting Students in Schools Procedure, and that the teacher (not named in the letter) had been placed on home assignment "pending the outcome of an investigation."

That investigation is now complete and, as Donsky herself wrote in an update on Wednesday, "appropriate consequences have been applied."

"As I shared with you last Friday afternoon, we were in the process of concluding our investigation into the incident of Blackface involving a Parkdale CI staff member two weeks ago," reads Donsky's letter as sent to parents, guardians and students on November 17.

"I want to thank you for your patience as we moved through this process. The investigation is now complete and the appropriate consequences have been applied. I can confirm that the staff member is no longer employed by the Toronto District School Board."

While many aren't happy about how long it took the school board to fire the teacher, those who had gathered to protest outside Parkdale CI last week did at least get one of the things they'd been asking for (Surlan's dismissal.)

Donsky wrote in her letter that the board is taking additional steps to address remaining concerns about racism and discrimination at Parkdale Collegiate, where another teacher is currently under investigation for saying the N-word to students on Oct. 28.

"With regard to the ongoing investigation into the other incident of anti-Black racism involving a staff member at the school, that investigation is continuing and we anticipate to have an update next week," wrote Donsky.

"I also wanted to take this opportunity to share some additional information about the staff learning underway at the school. In addition to the full day learning session for staff this Friday, additional learning will be conducted at the beginning of December that will be focused on promoting the achievement and well-being of Black students and disrupting deficit narratives rooted within anti-Black racism."

Lead photo by

Cathy Gatlin


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