Report uncovers “traumatic” and “painful” racism-related experiences in Mississauga schools

 

An interim report examining allegations of systemic racism in the Peel District School Board (PDSB)—the board that oversees schools in Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon—has found that many people consulted have "painful accounts of traumatic experiences in schools and school communities that speak to systemic and historical disparities between and across racial, ethnic and cultural groups."

In November 2019, the province announced that the PDSB was under review following racism and human rights complaints

The review is intended to address concerns about equity, including anti-Black racism, and serious issues related to governance, leadership and human resources practices in the board. 

The review comes after PDSB trustee Will Davies' used the word 'McCriminal' to describe McCrimmon Middle School in Brampton, sparking accusations of anti-Black racism. More recently, The Toronto Star revealed that Poleen Grewal, the associate director of instruction and equity with the PDSB, filed a complaint against the board and its director of education with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. She is accusing them of racism, harassment and diminishing her work while failing to deal with anti-Black racism in schools.

After the review was announced, Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, came under fire for not appointing a Black reviewer on the panel. Shortly after, Lecce announced that Shawn Richard, a Partner at Lenkinski Law and the former president of the Canadian Black Lawyers Association, would be the third panelist conducting the formal review of the PDSB.

Allegations of systemic racism are serious and perhaps even surprising, as the PDSB has a very diverse student population.

According to the report, the PDSB is the second-largest English-speaking public school board in Ontario, serving over 155,000 students in 257 schools (217 elementary and 42 secondary). 

The school board is one of the largest employers in the Peel region, employing approximately 17,000 staff in academic and business positions. The PDSB is governed by 12 trustees who are elected for four-year terms as well as two student trustees who are elected annually.

The report notes that the PDSB has a highly diverse student population. According to data from the most recent PDSB census, over 160 ethnic and cultural backgrounds are represented by PDSB secondary students. 

The top single racial backgrounds students self-identify with are South Asian (45.3 per cent), White (16.8 per cent), Black (10.2 per cent), Middle Eastern (5.6 per cent) and East Asian (5.4 per cent). Further, 6.7 per cent of secondary students identify with multiple racial backgrounds. 

Similar to the broader Peel Region, 0.7 per cent of secondary students self-identified as First Nations, Metis, Inuit or another Indigenous identity.

The report says there are a number of equity initiatives at various stages of development and implementation in the PDSB, as well as various staff at different levels of the organization designated to these equity initiatives. 

These initiatives include We Rise Together, which works to support the educational experiences of Black students, and The Journey Ahead, which aims to promote equitable hiring and promotion. 

The PDSB has had a Human Rights and Equity Advisor in place since December 2018.

"We remain committed to working with the Ministry of Education’s reviewers and are thankful that so many have come forward to share their experiences during this process. We recognize that the voices of students, staff, families and community members are important in helping us to eliminate anti-Black racism, and dismantle systemic barriers to academic success and well-being that exist within our system," said Brad MacDonald, chair of the board, in a statement.  

"We know that there is much work to do to build, repair and restore trust with the communities we serve. This process will help us become more transparent, responsive and accountable, and assist us in upholding the principles of equity, inclusion and human rights that our communities have every right to demand from us." 

“We share the community’s desire to have this review lead to transformative approaches and good governance to addressing gaps in both the educational and employment outcomes at the Peel District School Board, in particular for Black and racialized students and staff. We look forward to the reviewers’ final report and recommendations, and are committed to taking immediate action to ensure that all Peel board learning and working environments are places where everyone feels included, safe and respected.”

The province said the PDSB community welcomed the review—something the board confirmed in the wake of the review's announcement. 

The report says people have been eager to speak to reviewers. 

"The response to the invitation to the public to participate in the review has been strong. To date, we have received over 350 requests for interviews and written submissions by email, regular mail and telephone," the report reads. 

In December, reviewers conducted over 30 interviews with individuals and groups in various locations in the Peel Region and Toronto. 

"Some community members, particularly in the Black communities, have expressed concern about the process, suggesting that a more comprehensive, deeply consultative and conciliatory approach will reveal the problematic structural dynamics within the PDSB," the report reads. 

"In our view, the current approach will help to pinpoint the problematic structures and dynamics and establish new direction for the PDSB through the provision of recommendations to effect meaningful change within the PDSB. We are aware that this may not satisfy the desire within the community for deeper and more thorough consultations and truth-sharing, which we believe should take place under a renewed mandate."

The report says that reviewers have received written and oral submissions from many individuals and groups. The panel has also been reviewing various documentation, minutes of board meetings, board policies and data. 

The reviewers say they have consistently heard painful accounts of traumatic experiences in schools and school communities that suggest people of colour are facing barriers with respect to access to programming, services, and academic achievement. The report also says people of colour have cited challenging conditions in regards to transitioning to postsecondary education and the workforce. They also report hardships related to hiring, promotions, and disciplinary action in education and employment. 

"The narratives shared with us signal a profound lack of respect in relationships, demonstrated by stories of marginalization, discrimination, differential behavior, and harassment," the report reads. 

"To date, these sentiments relate to leadership, governance, human resources, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia and other forms of inequities put forward by students, parents, educators, staff, senior administrators, elected officials and community members who we have met with thus far."

The report says reviewers have planned for 13 days of interviews, including evenings and weekends, in various locations in Brampton, Mississauga, Etobicoke and Toronto in January. Reviewers will also contact students and parents.

The province says it won't be able to talk to everyone who has volunteered to participate in the review. 

"We will meet with and listen to as many people as possible to formulate recommendations that we will submit to you in our final report at the end of the review process," the report reads. 

The report says the review team intends to make recommendations that will directly address identified barriers to student and staff progress and also contribute to establishing conditions for the PDSB to create, strengthen and sustain meaningful, transparent processes for community participation. 

"The reviewers believe that, in the post-review period, a process that will allow community members to directly 'speak their truth' to trustees and senior staff is necessary for the PDSB to regain public confidence, that will be necessarily longer-term and that will be monitored by the Ministry," the report reads. 

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