Report suggests Peel District School Board is struggling to confront anti-Black racism in Brampton schools

Published June 9, 2020 at 12:35 am

newly-released report suggests that the Peel District School Board (PDSB) has been unable to adequatel

newly-released report suggests that the Peel District School Board (PDSB) has been unable to adequately confront anti-Black racism at the board level and in schools in Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon. 

The report, written by lawyer and human rights advocate Arleen Huggins, says that the board is 
“dysfunctional and, with no prospect of successful mediation, is incapable of providing good governance.” 

On April 28, Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, announced that had appointed Huggins to conduct an investigation into the PDSB’s compliance with Ministry of Education’s binding anti-racism directions.

The move came after 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 board still, after the [March 2020] review report and the directions, has a misunderstanding of anti-Black racism. Further, there is no evidence that the board has a willingness to engage

in the necessary work to gain such an understanding, nor does the board understand the urgency of the need to do so,” the report reads. 

The ongoing controversies at the board are connected to a damning report on racism in schools and at the board level. The Ministry of Education released that 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 March 2020 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.

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.

Huggins’ report indicates that there’s still a high degree of dysfunction plaguing the PDSB and keeping it from fulfilling the directions. 

“A divided board cannot provide either the vision or leadership that is required to successfully implement the governance-related directions that the board has assumed responsibility for, nor can it provide the appropriate oversight of the directions that fall under the responsibility of the Director of Education.”

In a statement, Lecce said Huggins’ report reveals the need for real change within the board and contains some “troubling” anecdotes.  

“Most troubling, her report finds that certain directions have not been complied with, and moreover, that the PDSB lacks the capacity to provide good governance in the interests of all students of the board and to effectively carry out its responsibilities to oversee and ensure proper compliance with my directions,” Lecce wrote, adding that he might need to step into a greater degree in the future. 

“As outlined in the Education Act, I am required to provide a final opportunity for compliance from the board. My expectation is clear: the board must change, or I will take further action. We cannot and will not sit idle, while families and students continue to feel isolated, victimized, and targeted.” 

Board chair Brad MacDonald and director of education, Peter Joshua, responded to Huggins’ report and pledged to meet the goals the province has set for the board.

“Let there be no mistake, the leadership team at the Peel District School Board shares a commitment to bring about the changes needed to end the systemic anti-Black racism that exists in our schools, policies and workplaces,” MacDonald and Joshua said in a joint statement.

“While our commitment to undertake anti-Black racism work today is real, we acknowledge there is reason for scepticism and mistrust sowed by years of inaction. As educators, we know you expect and deserve better from us.” 

Lecce said the board must demonstrate to his satisfaction that the members can sustainably work together and provide “good governance in the interests of all students of the PDSB.” 

The board must provide the minister with a plan to address the key findings in Huggins’ report by June 22, 2020.

MacDonald and Joshua pledged to comply. 

“Our response will include the specific actions that are already underway, and how we will address issues raised by the investigator, including the division among members and within the senior management of the board; a comprehensive plan to consult with all community groups; and timelines and deliverables that the board will meet to implement the plan,” they wrote. 

“The Black community in the Peel District School Board, and colleagues and students have been telling us for decades that anti-Black racism is part of their daily lived experiences. To date, as a school board, we have not been successful in eradicating anti-Black racism. ​Both individually and collectively, we have made clear that the era of denial about anti-Black racism cannot persist any longer. We must intentionally interrupt and disrupt anti-Black racism and all forms of systemic discrimination, and we are committed to doing so.”

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