School board apologizes for anti-Black racism in Brampton schools

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The Peel District School Board (PDSB)—which oversees schools in Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon—says that it will continue to combat anti-Black racism following the release of a damning report on racism in schools and at the board level. 

The board, which recently issued a formal apology to students and their families, says that work on the file will continue despite ongoing pandemic-related school closures.

While the report suggests discriminatory practices existed in Peel schools for some time, calls for action on anti-Black racism reached a fever pitch when a trustee referred to McCrimmon Middle School in Brampton as "McCriminal" in late 2019.  

"Over the past several months, during our execution of duties and stated roles as trustees of the Peel District School Board, debates, discussions and conversations have taken place, and decisions made which have caused hurt and harm fo members of the Black community, both those who live in Peel and others who live outside of Peel," the apology reads.  

"This includes the mishandling of circumstances around the disparaging comment made by a trustee about McCrimmon Middle School.  We heard from students, staff, families and the community at large about how harmful this comment was, and the negative impact it had."

Last month, the Ministry of Education released the 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.

On March 13, Education Minister Stephen Lecce submitted a letter to the PDSB with 27 directions and corresponding timetables and deliverables

Some 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. 

The final 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.

"All students, community members and employees of the Peel District School Board deserve a safe and caring environment to learn and work. Moving forward, the board will ensure that trustees follow the code of conduct that clearly outlines the obligation to the Human Rights Code," the board's apology reads. 

"The board and trustees offer our sincere apologies to students, staff, families and the school community at large for other decisions we have made that have negatively impacted student learning and well-being, as well as staff wellness."   

In the apology, the board acknowledged that systemic racism exists within the PDSB.  

"We must do all we can to eliminate the marginalization experienced by Black students and staff in Peel schools. As trustees, we are required to listen to the concerns and needs of our communities and bring those to the attention of the board," the apology reads. 

"The board and trustees commit to working against all issues of racism so that incidents such as those we have heard do not happen again. We will continue to rebuild trust, redress the impact, listen to the voices of students, educators and the community so we can move forward in our necessary work to achieve inclusion for all through continuous progress on equity. We will make the necessary changes to ensure a safe learning and working environment for everyone. "

During a regular meeting of the board on April 15, trustees were presented with an overview of the board’s response that outlines tasks, responsibilities, and progress on each of the directives. 

As actions are taken, updates will be shared with the community and posted on the board’s website, the board said in a letter to families. 

The Ministry consultation surfaced serious and deeply concerning accounts of traumatic experiences, especially for members of Peel’s Black community, and other racialized and marginalized communities,” said Brad MacDonald, chair of the board, in a statement. 

As the elected chair, I take responsibility for what happened, and for what will happen next. On behalf of the board, I want to apologize again for the trauma and hurt staff, students, families and community members have experienced. We have much to do to continue the remedial work necessary to seek reconciliation so that we can eliminate anti-Black racism, uproot system discrimination and regain trust to improve outcomes for students and staff.”

The PDSB says the board of trustees and senior leadership will develop an accountability framework to "drive and deliver positive change." 

The board says accountability measures and responsibilities will also be included in its new annual equity accountability report card. The report card will use race-based data to reveal how students of colour fare when it comes to expulsions, suspensions and graduation rates.

The board’s first progress report is due on June 1, 2020.

The PDSB says it has already moved forward on the ministry's directions. 

The board says that, since March 24, an independent mediator has been retained to help the PDSB identify, address and resolve dysfunction between members of the board. The board has also retained the services of an external parliamentarian/governance expert to establish procedures and practices for “effective, respectful and transparent governance.” 

The PDSB says it provided direction to all hiring managers to preserve all documentation related to hiring, promotions and temporary appointments moving forward. 

"We are taking this report and its directives very seriously, and we want everyone in our community to be assured that we are working diligently to improve board governance and leadership practices," said MacDonald in a statement. 

"We will do everything we can, in following the Minister of Education’s directives, to safeguard the success and well-being of students and staff.”

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