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Demanding Change and Action

Joint statement on urgent need for addressing anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in public education system.

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October 27, 2020

Dear Minister Lecce,

We hope this letter finds you well. Seeing the recent protests both globally and here in Ontario,stemming from the tragic deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Regis-Korchinski Paquet,Chantel Moore, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other individuals who have died at the hands of systemic racism, violence, police brutality and anti-Black and Indigenous racism. More and more people are demanding our elected officials and leaders take real and bold action in tackling anti-Black and Indigenous racism and the deeply entrenched systemic racism that exists in all of our societal institutions.

Throughout our education system, Black and Indigenous students have historically and continue to face the pervasive and systemic existence of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism that is extensive throughout the education system and school boards across the province of Ontario. For decades Black, Indigenous, and racialized students have been discriminated against, both by the institution that is supposed to ensure that all students are treated equally and have the same opportunities for success and by those in government who have chosen to ignore the long calls for systemic change.

The recent Peel District School Board (PDSB) review findings, though disheartening, was not a surprise to many students, parents, teachers and community members, who have been raising concerns about anti-Black racism and systemic discrimination for so long. The same issues raised by students at PDSB have been experienced and raised in similar reviews done by the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) and Toronto District School Board (TDSB). We know that in many other school boards who haven’t conducted similar reviews, their BIPOC students have spoken up against similar behaviour.

It is critical that during this time, where more and more people are working to address the pandemic of racism that exists in our society, that as Minister of Education, we are calling on you to be courageous and act, to defy the status quo, and to truly live up to your commitment to stand up for all students. You most recently said, “The time is now for action. We cannot wait,we will not wait, we will act swiftly and boldly in Peel, and to be frank province-wide, to ensure that we counter the very real issue of discrimination that is manifested in schools and within our society here in Ontario”. Therefore we are asking you Minister Lecce to build upon the steps you have taken, and to go much further and immediately implement the following:

  1. A total revision of the curriculum to fulfill the recommendations on Education for Reconciliation in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report and make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties and Aboriginal peoples historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a MANDATORY education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students. We are also calling for the same to be done to reflect the contributions of Black individuals to Canada, and not only Canada’s negative history of enslavement and disenfranchisement towards them. Both should be done in consultation with members from across the Black and Indigenous community to gain input from all parties.
  2. All school boards must take an anti-racism approach, by beginning the collection of disaggregated race-based student data by the end of 2021. The ministry currently has a target of 2023, and school boards need to act fast to ensure the deadline is met. The Province must also ensure there is a standardized collection of the data across school boards. The lack of data has enabled school boards to ignore calls for systemic change by citing that these issues do not exist in their schools.
  3. A complete and total end of streaming in Grades 9 and 10 in all secondary schools by 2023. Black youth continue to be streamed into lower education tracks as a result of both individual prejudice and systemic factors. This is evident with the overrepresentation of Black students in applied or locally developed classes.
  4. There must be a suspension pending a review on the “School Resource Officer” program (and other programs in similar form that have police in schools) through an equity lens, that will ultimately lead to the immediate and total removal of regular police presence in all schools. Black and Indigenous students continue to be surveilled and criminalized by SRO’s. The negative impact of the school-to-prison pipeline is made worse by police in schools. School boards must rather invest in direct student supports (social workers, community partnerships).

There is much more that needs to be done to eliminate the disparities that exist in the educational achievement for Black, Indigenous, and racialized students, so it is necessary for the government to continue to listen to the voices of the communities affected. In regards to the 27 directives you have issued to the PDSB, it is essential that these directives be implemented by all other school boards. We know that this issue of racism is not an individual school board problem but is an issue faced by many students across the province. There have been many reviews and reports conducted with countless recommendations that have still not been implemented. Therefore the time for platitudes and nice words have passed, now is the time to take affirmative and drastic action to address the historical oppression the education system has had on Black and Indigenous peoples.

Education, which is often seen as the great equalizer in society that levels the playing field for all students, has failed in its mandate. Education, being one of the most important foundations an individual can have, is supposed to give all students the equivalent opportunity for the success they hope for. Therefore, In order for us to effectively deal with this issue of systemic racism in education and the anti-Black and Indigenous racism perpetuated on our school community, the province will need to take strong leadership on this front and deal with this province wide issue, with province wide solutions.

In the words of the late Nelson Mandela “The power of education extends beyond the development of the skills we need for economic success. It can contribute to nation-building and reconciliation.” As much as it is important that our youth leave school with the right skills and competencies needed to get a job in the future job market. It is even more crucial that our youth leave school with the right knowledge, character and anti-racist mindset that enables them to appreciate the strength in our diversity and work towards history not repeating itself.

Together we the underlying signatories, stand in solidarity and demand action and accountability on school boards and the provincial government to take urgent action on the anti-Black and Indigenous racism entrenched in the educational institution. We must continue to take vigorous action on this front, until we reach a much stronger and more equitable education for all 2 million students.

CC:
Premier of Ontario Doug Ford
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education Sam Oosterhoff
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones
Leader, Official Opposition, Andrea Horwath
Education Critic, Marit Stiles
Anti-Racism Critic, Laura Mae Lindo

Sincerely,

African Canadian National Coalition against Hate, Oppression and Racism (ANCHOR)
Black Health Alliance
Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC)
City of Toronto’s Confronting Anti - Black Racism Unit (CABR)
Coalition for Alternatives to Streaming in Education (CASE)
Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO)
Laidlaw Foundation
Latinx, Afro-Latin-America, Abya Yala Education Network (LAEN)
Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE)
Ontario Black History Society (OBHS)
Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL)
Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC)
Ontario Student Trustees Association (OSTA-AECO)
Parents of Black Children
Toronto Youth Cabinet (TYC)
Urban Alliance on Race Relations (UARR)
Vaughan African Canadian Association (VACA)