Trustees with the Peel District School Board (PDSB) have unanimously voted to ask Ontario’s education minister to appoint a supervisor to help oversee the board amid allegations of systemic racism.
“Anti-Black racism is a real and continuing problem in the Peel District School Board that requires not just urgent action, but a united sense of purpose at the board that is currently lacking,” a motion approved Wednesday night said.
“Action in tackling the anti-Black racism and other forms of hate and discrimination must occur at the same time the Peel District School Board prepares for the expected return of students in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic which itself promises an unprecedented organizational challenge.”
The trustees asked for a supervisor to remain in place until the end of 2020, directing that “full cooperation” be given to Lecce and a potential supervisor if one is appointed.
“This board, our board, lacks the capacity to do this work and to move it forward and the pace that is required … it’s really work that should have been happening for years and years it just never did and it’s work that’s important — it’s timely,” Trustee Nokha Dakroub said Wednesday night.
“This board needs to be placed under ministry supervision. I don’t know for how long, but definitely for right now … The trustees have a lot of work to do to earn our seats back at this table.
“We need to get out of the way today. We need to get out of the way so that the work can be done that is in the best interest of students, it’s in the best of staff, it’s in the best interest of the system and it’s in the best interest of public education.”
When speaking in support of the motion, Trustee Kathy McDonald spoke directly to PDSB students.
“This motion is for Black students, it’s for Indigenous students, it’s for all marginalized students at this board, it’s for Muslim students, it’s for any student that… has ever felt less than welcomed at this board,” she said, citing “unimaginable” roadblocks during the process.
“I really want to speak to every single student – every little Black boy and Black girl at this board, every little Indigenous boy and girl — to let you know you’re worthy and you’re worthy of an education that you are legally entitled to.
“I hope at the end when this is all over that we will get the system right and we will serve as a model not only for Ontario but for this country because this sadly is not unique to Peel.”
Before Wednesday’s board meeting, hundreds of residents attended an event called Peel’s March for Justice that saw people walk to the Peel District School Board from Brampton’s courthouse.
“We are marching for the future of our siblings and the future of our children. There is a lack of representation of Black teachers, Black history, and Black culture and the kids deserve to learn their history,” organizers said in a social media post ahead of the march.
The motion approved by trustees Wednesday night came more than a week after Lecce pledged to make changes if the PDSB couldn’t take action to address allegations of systemic racism.
He said a recently completed report on the PDSB by human rights advocate Arleen Huggins suggested the organization is not committed to addressing racism in its ranks. The report was a direct followup to a previous review that found anti-Black racism was a persistent problem in the school board.
Peter Joshua, the PDSB’s director of education, said on Wednesday the board is committed to eliminating anti-Black racism and systemic discrimination.
“Our work to alleviate injustice begins with each of us. We must — I must — examine what I have done and have not done that has led to the perpetuation of anti-Black racism in our system,” he said.
“I must own my responsibility and commit to work alongside staff, and the board’s unions, federations and associations to do better by those I serve.”
When it comes to Huggins’s review, she was asked to ensure that PDSB staff and board members were complying with the government directions after Lecce previously made 27 binding orders to address the issue.
Huggins’s report said several of the key orders were not being followed, including a demand to come up with an anti-racism policy based on meaningful consultation with affected communities. She found failure to comply with several of the 27 recommendations Lecce issued in March following a review of the PDSB.
The third-party review found that while Black students make up only 10.2 per cent of the secondary school population, they account for about 22.5 per cent of the Peel board students receiving suspensions.
The reviewers heard anecdotally that some principals “use any excuse” to suspend Black students, including if they wear hoodies or hoop earrings.
Recent school board data shows that about 83 per cent of secondary school students are racialized, compared to staffing ratios showing two-thirds of teachers are white.
When citing instances of non-compliance, Huggins found there was dysfunction both among the board of trustees and key school board staff tasked with addressing systemic racism.
Concerns were also raised by different stakeholders about the streaming of a large number of Black students into applied-level courses in high school versus academic-level courses.
Joshua said Wednesday evening work has been going on to address Lecce’s directives and Huggins’s report. He highlighted an immediate end of informal and in-school suspensions, ending suspensions and expulsions for students up to Grade 3, looking at ways to change the discipline of students and better involving those who have lived experience.
“This is about changing life trajectory for our students and it’s our responsibility to ensure we are not about changing them, we are about changing our system so they can thrive,” he said, backing the need for an “appropriate, accountable” action plan.
“The true way to demonstrate that we are about anti-Black racism is that our students are thriving and that we are seeing increases and improvements in their achievement, and we are seeing this lead towards improved, increased graduation rates and access to programming.”
Joshua also said the board wants to conduct consultations with the community. He reiterated the board is looking to hire Dr. Avis Glaze, Ontario’s former education commissioner, as a special consultant.
“In this role, Dr. Glaze will consult on critical actions the Peel board must take to address and work at eliminating all forms of oppression, systemic discrimination and anti-Black racism system-wide,” the board said in an announcement on Monday.
“Dr. Glaze will serve as an impartial critical adviser to Director Joshua, providing candid feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the board, and in the areas of anti-racism and equity, offering concrete, constructive and measurable solutions.
“One of her key areas of focus will be to work with Director Joshua to develop strong, respectful, collaborative relationships with diverse communities, particularly Black communities, and to consult with them.”
— With files from The Canadian Press