While schools are closed in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19, the Peel District School Board (PDSB)–which operates schools in Mississauga, Brampton, and Caledon–has made headlines for how it’s dealing with the fallout of a damning report on racism in schools and at the board level.
Earlier this month, the PDSB announced that it is making progress on anti-racism directives issued by the Ministry of Education. The board also said that it will cease the practice of “informal/in-school suspensions,” as well as stop all suspensions and expulsions of students in Kindergarten to Grade 3.
The push to make significant changes at the board and school levels came after the Ministry of Education released the aforementioned report following its review of the PDSB–a review requested by the board in light of allegations of anti-Black racism and improper human resources practices.
The final report contains myriad examples of how racism disproportionately impacts Black students, pointing out that Black students are suspended more frequently than students of other ethnic backgrounds. The report also found that school administrators are more likely to involve the police in incidents involving Black students, even when the incidents are not criminal in nature.
Over the course of the review, Black students reportedly told reviewers that they feel they’re held to a higher standard than students of other races.
While the report suggests discriminatory practices existed in Peel schools for some time, calls for action on anti-Black racism reached a fever pitch when a trustee referred to McCrimmon Middle School in Brampton as “McCriminal” in late 2019.
On March 13, Lecce submitted a letter to the PDSB with 27 directions and corresponding timetables and deliverables.
Directions include retaining an independent mediator or conflict resolution expert to advise the board, retaining an additional integrity commissioner, implementing a mandatory annual learning plan for board members, finding an external expert to evaluate the performance of the director of education, implementing an annual equity accountability report card and more.
While the board said it was moving forward on completing the directives issued by the province, more controversy arose when two trustees refused to mediate, citing a lack of faith in all board members to pursue meaningful change.
On May 4, the PDSB provided a lengthy progress report of sorts with students and families, pledging to make changes to improve the learning experience for Black and other non-white students.
“We must do better to provide all members of the community, in particular Black students, staff and families, with safe and inclusive places to learn and work. We are faced with the same urgency we encountered when the pandemic school closures were announced,” Peter Joshua, Director of Education, wrote in the letter.
“The same commitment to care, engagement and support is required as we work to eliminate the legacy of anti-Black racism and systemic discrimination that exists in our system. I have made it clear to every staff member, in every role, that each one of us has responsibilities to respond to the Minister of Education’s directives and to change practices that have led us here. We own this work, and the only way we disrupt this legacy is by committing to this work together, as a staff, alongside students and community.”
In the letter, Joshua said there are immediate actions the board must implement now that have a direct impact on students and their success.
“The work we undertake will be done through an anti-oppression lens, in particular an anti-Black racism lens. We will honour peoples’ histories and identities, and work to better understand every student, colleague and family as we navigate this work. We will put our commitment into meaningful and authentic practice and do what is right and just by those we serve, in particular Black students and staff, and others who are marginalized.”
The letter says that going forward, staff, families and community will receive updates on the board’s progress in relation to the province’s directives.
So, how is the board progressing on the directives?
The report and data indicate that Black youth, especially males, are disproportionally represented in suspensions, expulsions, exclusions and streaming. Effective immediately, the board will cease the practice of “informal/in-school suspensions.”
“For students who experience challenges, we will continue the practice of providing safe, alternative learning spaces with support. We must consider the school to prison pipeline and how ‘informal/in-school suspensions’ are viewed as a punishment that does not offer learning supports that are consistent with students’ strengths, needs and learning goals,” the letter reads.
The letter says that all suspensions and expulsions of students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 will cease. For all other grades, all suspensions must fall under Ministry definitions/incident codes.
The letter says that before deciding whether to impose a suspension, a principal or vice-principal “must make every effort” to consult with the student, where appropriate, and the student’s parent(s)/guardian(s) to identify whether any mitigating and/or other factors might apply in the circumstances. Educators must also consider whether the consequence will exacerbate the student’s disadvantaged position in society.
If a principal or vice-principal decides that a suspension is an appropriate response, he or she must, within 24 hours of the decision, make all reasonable efforts to orally inform the student’s parent(s)/guardian(s) or adult student of the suspension.
This will be followed by a letter (hard copy or electronic) notifying them of the suspension, and includes information on how the suspension can be appealed.
The board says it will design and implement a substantive secondary school de-streaming pilot project for Grades 9 and 10 for the 2021-22 school year that aims to mitigate and reverse the impact of systemic racism for Black students in the Peel board. At least two secondary schools will be involved in the pilot, and other school boards who have de-streaming initiatives will be consulted. Schools will be determined using a strategic response based on our Student Census data.
“I want to assure everyone that the Peel board’s commitment to anti-Black racism and anti-oppression is not on pause. We are being intentional about this work,” Joshua wrote in the letter.
“As we make progress on the directives that provide voice, support and a way forward, we will share updates with you and the community on our board website.”
“Through our new Annual Equity Accountability Report Card, we will establish accountability measures and responsibilities for school and senior board leadership, and we will reach out to the community regularly to assess our progress and make any necessary adjustments,” the letter reads.
“Our first progress report will be issued by June 1, 2020, and our first Annual Equity Accountability Report Card will be shared through my Annual Report by Jan. 31, 2021.
Superintendent of Equity
Once the new Superintendent of Equity begins in their role, they will establish a new Equity Office and help enhance the board’s Equity team by hiring outreach workers and additional equity leads.
The board hope to have an individual in the role by early to mid-June 2020.
Regional Learning Choices Programs
The board says it will work to address the statistically significant disproportionality in enrollment of Black students and other marginalized students in the Peel board’s Regional Learning Choices Programs.
“We will implement measures to ensure Black and other marginalized students have equitable representation in these programs. We will also explore how access to programs can be improved through program planning and geographic placement, subsidies and marketing strategies. These changes will support Regional Learning Choices Programs that start in September 2021 and be implemented in the selection process that begins in late Fall 2020,” the letter says.
“Consultation and development on the board’s Anti-Racism Policy is beginning now,” the letter says.
“A Steering Committee will be set up with internal and external experts to guide the policy’s development and implementation.”
The board plans to hire four graduation coaches to support secondary schools.
According to the letter, these advocates will work towards ensuring that Black youth between the ages of 13 and 18 are engaged and encouraged to achieve their full potential. Specifically, they will develop creative approaches to attract and retain youth in the program, act as student mentors and advisors, and advocate for individual learners with teachers, other school staff and families.
The board says the coaches will also identify and address systemic barriers where privilege and a lack of cultural competence may be at play, and create spaces for students to voice their experiences to enable the board and its secondary schools to establish “trusting relationships and responsive services.”
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