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Toronto principal apologizes after using ISIS flag to promote Islamic Heritage Month

A Toronto elementary school that prides itself on its multiculturalism is taking some heat this week as screenshots circulate from an email-to-parents in which a symbol associated with terrorism was used to illustrate Islamic Heritage Month.

As reported by CTV on Tuesday, parents of the roughly 700 students who attend Dr. Rita Cox – Kina Minogok Public School in Parkdale were shocked in October to find an image of the black and white flag used by ISIS in an email from Principal Darlene Jones.

"October is Islamic Month and Somali Month," reads a portion of the email under the heading "Upcoming Noteworthy Dates."

Two images can be seen above this text: One showing the location of Somalia on a map, the other showing a flag associated with some of the world's most notorious violent extremists.

Formally designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, ISIS is a well-funded and widely condemned Islamist militant group known for committing genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and massive human rights abuses.

The inclusion of the flag in the aforementioned email was a mistake, according to the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), which told blogTO on Wednesday that "there is no reason to believe there was any ill intent" with the email, and that "the principal feels horrible about what happened."

Principal Jones herself apologized to members of the school community after being alerted to the image's offensive nature.

"When the mistake was brought to the Principal's attention in October, she immediately drafted a correction that was shared with all families, in which she apologized and acknowledged the harmful and offensive image that was originally shared," said the school board on Wednesday.

The principal herself wrote to parents at the time: "I would like to apologize to all who were harmed by the image I sent last week to celebrate Islamic Heritage Month. The image was offensive and harmful and does not represent Islam."

Despite the months-old apology, many in the city are still expressing outrage and confusion this week after learning that such an email had ever been sent.

While some on Twitter contend that the principal inserted the image intentionally to further some sort of violent agenda, most seem to agree that Jones made a very stupid mistake.

ISIS is short for " the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria," though it is also sometimes referred to as ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) or by its Arabic acronym, Daesh.

It stands to reason that the principal was looking for an image to illustrate Islamic Heritage Month in her email and typed "Islamic flag" into a search engine.

This exact query, as performed using Google Images, returns an image of the black and white ISIS flag on Page 1 (though it is not among even the first 10 images.)

CTV reports that Jones simply "copied and pasted" the offensive image into her email, meaning that she might not even have clicked on it to see the source.

Some members of the community say that this kind of carelessness and lack of attention to detail is, when concerning a school principal, more troubling than the image of the flag image itself.

"It is just a matter of pure ignorance, shows that the principal is incompetent and doesn't know anything about world affairs," wrote one Canadian in response to the news. "Principal just saw the Arabic and decided it's cool to send it out celebrating the Islamic culture."

"I'm not sure if everyone in Canada would see this flag and would know that it belongs to ISIS," they continued. "However, teachers should have more knowledge and understanding of geopolitics."

"... She's either an idiot who didn't recognize the ISIS flag and took the first image she saw when she Googled 'Islamic Heritage'... Or she knowingly sent out an email with the ISIS flag linked to Islamic Heritage," wrote another Twitter user.

"Neither one is particularly good luck for a Principal."

Some are calling for Jones to be fired in light of this and previous mistakes she's made during her time at the K-8 school in Parkdale — mistakes like confusing a 13-year-old child for a fellow teacher and referring to Toronto's recent municipal election as a "federal election" in another school-wide email.

Others are defending the principal, who presides over a school that, on its website, boasts of "serving over 700 students coming from many different countries."

"I am shocked. She used to teach at my middle school and she was a VP at the school I regularly substitute in," wrote one Toronto-based educator on Twitter in response to this week's news.

"She was a wonderful teacher and Vice-Principal when I knew her. I hope there is more development to the story. Perhaps it is a mistake."

Jones has yet to publicly address the controversy, and the TDSB has indicated that no further action will be taken, as she promptly apologized for her mistake back in October after it happened.

Lead photo by

Darlene Jones


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