Peel board review team finds ‘racism and discrimination’ and slams administrators for inaction

Of note:

Three reviewers sent in to investigate the Peel school board heard “painful and difficult” stories of racism — including how white supremacists attend meetings — and have reprimanded senior leaders for being “paralyzed by inaction” to make changes.

The reviewers detail how racism disproportionately impacts Black students, from lower enrolment in academic classes to higher suspension rates — and often for dubious reasons such as “wearing a hoodie,” do-rags or even hoop earrings, says the reviewers’ report, obtained by the Star.

Their report, to be released Friday, also covers issues of equity, poor leadership and a lack of diverse staffing, including a dearth of Black guidance counsellors in the province’s second largest board.

“The accounts of racism and discrimination documented in the report are deeply troubling and will not be tolerated,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement. “After decades of inaction, I want to see swift implementation of these recommendations to drive the change racialized and other discriminated students deserve.”

Lecce said “students and the community have demanded change and I want to assure them that we will monitor board implementation and hold them to account to deliver this transformational change that will put every student on a path to success.”

The reviewers — Ena Chadha, Sue Herbert and Shawn Richard — were called in to probe the board late last year as it struggled with allegations of racism, dysfunction and troubling trustee conduct. Patrick Case — a human rights lawyer and assistant deputy education minister — oversaw and assisted in the investigation.

In their final report, the review team found that “some teachers use any excuse to exclude Black students from the classroom and some principals use any excuse to suspend Black students from schools.”

Black students comprise 10.2 per cent of high school students, but make up 22.5 per cent of those suspended — and many of those suspensions don’t meet standards set by the Ministry of Education, they found.

“During our review, Black youth told us that they feel like they are held to higher standards, and different codes of conduct in comparison to white or other racialized students,” and that they are disproportionately streamed into classes that don’t give them the requirements for university, the report says.

“It is untenable that, for many years, the board has been unaware of this terrible state of affairs.”

Black students are the target of “degrading, inappropriate and racist comments” made by teachers and principals, and often hear the N-word uttered by other students without punishment, the report says.

They heard about one teacher who commented that a Black student “will be a drug dealer just like his dad.”

The level of enrolment of Black students in specialized arts schools or International Baccalaureate programs is “abysmal,” and disproportionately low for students of Latin American heritage, the reviewers found.

Islamophobia is also a concern, and the reviewers said they “were provided with French curriculum materials that were clearly Islamophobic, conveyed blatant hostility to the Muslim community and an ignorance of the basic tenants of Islam.”

In speaking to Muslim students and community members, the reviewers said they heard of many incidents of Islamophobia. “Citing conflicts referable to prayers in (Peel) schools and the presence of white supremacists at a meeting of the board of trustees, we heard from the students, families, and educators of the real need for an Islamic co-ordinator to support Muslim students.”

The reviewers acknowledged that trustees and administrators agreed there is anti-Black racism in the board, yet have done nothing to address it.

Teachers and principals “escalate trivial issues unnecessarily…involving police for minor issues leading to arrests and stigmatization of Black children at a very young age,” the report said. Black children, it added, “are leaving the (Peel board) because it is not safe for them.”

The report also says that “approximately 25 per cent of (staff) are racialized, which is almost the opposite of the demographics of the student body.”

In their interim report released in January, the three reviewers said they had already “consistently heard painful accounts of traumatic experiences in schools and school communities.”

The “narratives shared with us signal a profound lack of respect in relationships, demonstrated by stories of marginalization, discrimination, differential behaviour, and harassment.”

The reviewers began their work amid turmoil at the board and after a trustee referred to the diverse McCrimmon Middle School as “McCriminal,” and after a senior administrator in charge of anti-discrimination launched a human rights complaint.

Their report demands that the board “immediately issue a responsive and respectful public apology for the mishandling” of the McCrimmon incident — and it also noted that other diverse schools are known by disparaging nicknames, including Central Peel being referred to as “Central Africa,” and Meadowvale as “Meadow Jail.”

The report also directs the boards to create a four-year plan to improve enrolment and achievement of Black and other racialized students.

Among staff, the reviewers found a “culture of fear” — which past reviews of other boards, including the Toronto public, have also uncovered — as well as poor communications with the community. Trustees, who are bitterly divided, were criticized for often overstepping their roles in hiring and promotions.

“The (Peel District School Board) is facing a crisis of confidence,” they wrote.

Among their recommendations: hire a mediator to broker peace among trustees, as well as between trustees and senior administrators; improved trustee training; and also to “retain the services of an integrity commissioner who has demonstrated experience in, and knowledge of, human rights principles.”

The Peel District School Board has more than 155,000 students in Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon schools, and about 17,000 staff members.

It is highly diverse, and among students the three largest groups are South Asian (45 per cent), white (17 per cent) and Black (10 per cent).

The reviewers heard from more than 300 people, including 115 in-person interviews.

They also noted that there are issues of “factional violence amongst South Asian communities and, in particular, in relation to male youths of the north Brampton Punjabi community” that teachers and administrators “either ignored or were indifferent to the violence.”

Drug and alcohol abuse is also a concern in the South Asian community.

Jamil Jivani, Ontario’s newly named advocate for community opportunities, said the minister is taking action on the recommendations and that is “an important step toward building a public school system that gives each child — regardless of race, background, or postal code — a fair start in life.”

He said “with the announcement of 29 new ministerial directives, the Government of Ontario is positioning the (Peel board) to immediately strengthen its governance and leadership practices to focus its attention on ensuring that all (Peel) students can realize their full potential in classrooms and schools where they are supported, respected, valued and welcomed.”

Source: Peel board review team finds ‘racism and discrimination’ and slams administrators for inaction

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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