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New grant provides legal aid for suspended, expelled black students

Last Updated Oct 27, 2016 at 7:30 pm EST

A new grant has been established to help some of the hundreds of families across the province with their legal fight to keep their suspended or expelled children in school.

The African Canadian Legal Clinic (ACLC) told CityNews it receives 300 calls every year from parents seeking legal help to get their kids back in school.

The ACLC’s Margaret Parsons says some of the allegations she’s come across have been stunning.

“We have dealt with children as young as five years old that they have called the police on, trying to get that child in kindergarten expelled,” she says.

“A child trying to help their colleague, another student by picking up their crayon. This little child was then seen as a sexual predator. A little five-year-old black boy.”

The alleged reason?

“He was accused of trying to look up [the skirt of] his colleague who had a disability,” Parsons said.

“So, he thought he was doing a good thing when her crayon dropped … and he was then accused by the teacher of trying to look up her dress.”

To help parents with suspension and expulsion hearings, Legal Aid Ontario has announced a one-time, $200,000 grant. Agencies can apply to use the money to pay for lawyers to represent black families across the province.

“We’ve launched this initiative to see whether the delivery of legal services through community organizations can make a dent, can impact positively this startling issue of the school to prison pipeline,” said Moya Teklu of Legal Aid Ontario.

Parsons maintains, however, the $200,000 amount is not enough for the immense need.

“It will not even begin to crack the surface,” she said. “The problem is so systemic; it is so deep. It is a crisis.”

The most recent statistics from the Toronto District School Board show an alarming reality: Black students are almost three times more likely to be suspended than white students in each age group.

Black students are suspended or expelled more than any other racial group in Ontario. TORONTO DISTRICT SCHOOL BOARD

Both Parsons and Teklu agree they have not seen a decline in the disproportionate number of black students expelled compared to their enrollment in schools.

One solution put forward by the ACLC is to have all school boards across the province collect race-based statistics.

“It is a problem all over,” said Parsons. “We get calls from across the province to try to address this problem of suspension and expulsion of black kids.”