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Hamilton’s public school board to launch student census to zero in on ‘systemic barriers’

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Hamilton’s public school board to launch student census to zero in on ‘systemic barriers’

Hamilton’s public school board is launching a student census next month in an effort to create a more inclusive learning environment in the city’s schools.

On Monday (April 19), the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) informed families and caregivers that a voluntary and confidential census will be conducted on May 3, 2021.

The survey, called We All Count: HWDSB Student Census 2021 will ask questions about student identities to identify and address systemic barriers, a notice on the board’s website said.

Depending on a student’s age, the census may ask about a student’s languages, Indigenous identity, ethnicity, race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, (dis)abilities, place of birth and citizenship/immigration status.

“We are committed to identifying and removing barriers so we can offer all students supportive, inclusive, and respectful learning environments,” the notice said.

“We know that asking about a person’s identity can be uncomfortable, and we will do so with sensitivity. We consulted students, families, staff, and community members so that this census helps HWDSB make evidence-informed decisions to support equity, student achievement and well-being.”

An independent investigation into racism at the board was launched last year after former student trustee, Ahona Mehdi, came forward with allegations that included being silenced during her term and hearing trustees make overtly racist comments.

When the findings of the investigation were made public in February, the accompanying report corroborated Mehdi’s allegations and offered 12 recommendations to address the lack of equity and inclusion at the board.

One of the recommendations calls for the establishment of “a student advisory committee representative of the demographics and intersectionality of the Board’s student body, with whom the Director of Education and senior administration may consult on meaningful EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion) policies.”

The launch of the student census appears to be a step towards establishing this committee as well as understanding more about the nature of the proven barriers that exist with the city’s public school system.

The notice announcing the new census notes that while it remains confidential, responses will not be anonymous.

“Individual student responses will be grouped together for analysis so that no individual student information is ever identifiable,” it said.

“Collected responses will be stored in a secure, confidential database and will only be accessed by authorized HWDSB Research & Analytics staff to identify and summarize trends among HWDSB students.”
In the meantime, the HWDSB is encouraging caregivers and students to provide feedback on the census and to bring forward any questions or concerns ahead of the census launch.

The board plans to hold five online information sessions this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, as well as next Wednesday and Thursday. To register for one of the sessions, and for more information on the census, visit here.

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