An Ontario school board is warning parents to not make assumptions about the new coronavirus that could stoke xenophobia and racism against the Chinese community.

Officials with the York Region District School Board issued a letter Monday urging parents to not speculate about the risk of students and staff members spreading the virus based on their race or travel history.

An online petition by parents in the region north of Toronto, which has a large Chinese population, calls on the school board to ask students whose families have recently returned from China to stay home for 17 days of “self-quarantine.”

It also demands that schools keep track of these students’ travels and inform other parents so they can decide whether to pull their kids out of class.

Board chair Juanita Nathan and education director Louise Sirisko wrote that such requests run the risk of “demonstrating bias and racism,” even when made in the name of safety.

They said that while the virus is believed to have originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, it’s important that it not be seen as a “Chinese virus.”

“At times such as this, we must come together as Canadians and avoid any hint of xenophobia, which in this case can victimize our East Asian Chinese community,” the letter said.

“Situations such as these can regrettably give rise to discrimination based on perceptions, stereotypes and hate.”

A spokesperson for the school board said the letter was issued in response to “misinformation” circulating in the community, particularly on social media.

There have been more than 4,500 cases of the new coronavirus in China, fuelling concerns about human-to-human transmission.

Canada’s top public health official said Monday that the risk to Canadians remains minimal after a second presumed positive case of the virus was discovered.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2020.

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

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