Peel board asks for help from province to tackle anti-Black racism in Mississauga schools


Published June 18, 2020 at 7:04 pm


Days after the release of another concerning report on the Peel District School Board (PDSB)’s issues with anti-Black racism in schools and at the board level, the board has passed a motion requesting help from the provincial government. 

In a news release, the board said that members voted unanimously to ask Education Minister Stephen Lecce to appoint a supervisor who will take control over the administration of the affairs of the board.

“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-level that is currently lacking,” the motion reads. 

“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 motion calls on the minister appoint a supervisor to assist the board in implementing the “fundamental changes needed to ensure a discrimination-free and safe learning and working environment.”

The motion asks that the supervisor remains in place until at least Dec. 31, 2020.

The motion was passed following a well-attended anti-racism March for Justice that concluded at the PDSB headquarters, as well as calls for the chair and director of education to resign.

The board’s issues with systemic racism began making headlines in late 2019 after a trustee referred to McCrimmon Middle School, a Brampton school with many racialized students, as “McCriminal.”  A review of the board was subsequently requested and reviewers produced a damning report on racism in Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon schools and at the board level. 

The report, released in March 2020, 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.

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. 

A more recent report written by Arleen Huggins, a lawyer and human rights advocate, indicates that there’s still a high degree of dysfunction plaguing the PDSB and keeping it from fulfilling the directions. 

Lecce appointed Huggins to conduct an investigation into the PDSB’s compliance with the binding anti-racism directions back in April when two trustees–Kathy McDonald and Nokha Dakroub–refused to mediate with other members of the board, citing a lack of faith in the others to pursue meaningful change.

Huggins’ report calls out persistent conflicts and poor communication between board members and a fundamental lack of understanding of what, exactly, anti-Black racism is. 

The motion says the PDSB will offer its full cooperation to the minister and any supervisor.

“It is the board’s hope that ministry assistance will help ensure all students and staff face a new and better reality when schools reopen in the new school year,” said Brad MacDonald, Chair of the Board, in a statement. 

“Should the minister accept the board’s request to appoint a supervisor, our board of trustees and the senior leadership team is committed to providing our full cooperation to ensure the fundamental changes are implemented, and I would expect the same from all staff.”

On June 15, Peter Joshua, Director of Education, announced that the board asked Dr. Avis Glaze to act as a special consultant and impartial critical advisor. 

“Dr. Glaze considers it necessary to take time to review all reports and ministry directives before engaging in a formal process with the board. The scope of the work will be largely determined as we move forward with the ministry directions, following our submission of a report to the minister on June 22, 2020,” the board said in a news release. 

The board confirmed that it has not been able to satisfy all necessary directives thus far. 

“Let there be no mistake. With this motion, we as a board are not walking away from our responsibilities to eliminate anti-Black racism in our schools; we are bringing in reinforcements to tackle it together,” David Green, Vice-Chair of the Board, said in a statement. 

The board says it’s committed to developing stronger relationships with Black and racialized communities.

“In the minister’s letter to the board on June 8, 2020, he made it clear that we must take a substantive and purposeful approach to the directives, and not simply a technical one,” said Joshua in a statement. 

“We know that we need assistance to ensure that our approach meets ministry requirements, particularly focused on the needs of Black students and other students who have been marginalized and underserved. We must create a more harmonious, productive and effective school district. We are fully aware that we need the expertise necessary to help guide our next steps.”

In a June 18 tweet, Lecce signalled that he’s willing to step in as requested.

“To the families of Peel, your voices have been heard,’ Lecce tweeted.

“A supervisor needs to be called in with one mission: stomp out anti-Black racism and all forms of discrimination that has set too many kids back. I will be taking immediate steps towards that end. Change is coming to Peel.”

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