In an attempt to provide representation for students of two marginalized groups, the Peel District School Board (PDSB) recently approved a motion to start hiring more black and indigenous teachers.
The motion was brought forth in a board meeting on Monday, March 25 by Kathy McDonald, a PDSB trustee serving Brampton wards 3/4.
McDonald says the board needs to embark on a targeted recruitment initiative to hire black and indigenous teachers, as black and indigenous students are underperforming academically compared to students of other racial groups.
“There are countless studies, including research from our own board, that have scientifically proven that having black teachers – even one black teacher – can make a difference in a child going to college,” McDonald said.
Citing research from Johns Hopkins University, she states that a low-income black student’s probability of dropping out of school lessens by 29% if the student has even just one black teacher in elementary school.
She makes the same case for indigenous students.
“The research is clear. Seeing yourself reflected in the classroom is important for students’ success,” McDonald said. “Black and indigenous students are not graduating and excelling as their peers.”
While the motion was mostly supported by other trustees, some concerns were raised over the motion applying only to students of those two groups, rather than attempting to represent all of Peel’s students equally.
“I can’t support this motion because I represent all members of my community and I think they all deserve the same kind of equal treatment to have their representation in the school,” said trustee Brad MacDonald, representing Mississauga wards 2/8.
He points to statistics indicating that Peel’s population is composed of 50% South Asians people but only 15% of school staff are South Asian, compared to the black population, which makes up 15% of the community and 7% of school staff.
“I can’t support a motion that goes halfway,” he said, adding that it wasn’t a “big change” to have the motion adjusted so it accounts for all student groups equally.
A few other trustees echoed his thoughts.
However, McDonald passionately defended the motion, reasserting that black and indigenous students are the most vulnerable and disproportionately affected in the current education system.
“This motion seeks to serve and address the marginalization of our students. All Peel students are not marginalized. I’m addressing the students at the bottom of the totem pole,” she said.
She clarified that the motion is not about equitable hiring, but rather intentional hiring to address the fact that black and indigenous students are doing far worse than their peers.
She also argues that South Asian students are not failing in school at higher rates than other students and are not dealing with a 40% dropout rate like black students.
“I urge my colleagues to remember that equality is not equity,” McDonald concluded.
After deliberation by trustees, the motion was brought to a vote of 11-3 in favour.
The board is expected to further discuss changes to its hiring practices sometime in the future.
We’ll update with further information on this story as it develops.