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Peel school board looks to rid the classroom of racism

Last Updated Oct 23, 2017 at 1:58 pm EDT

The Peel District School Board says it soon will be sending its own teachers back to school to address issues of racism and discrimination within its own ranks.

The move comes after two reports painted a troubling picture of deep-rooted discrimination at Peel Region District School Board schools towards black students.

“This is where training is good, but training is only a one-stop shop,” said Poleen Grewal, associate director of instruction and equity at Peel District School Board. “We’re also looking at where did it start? How do people experience and see black youth generally, so I think it is an education for everybody.”

The board says its managers, directors and school principals will take part in two half-days of anti-black discrimination training this year. Teachers and support staff will follow next year.

The move comes after a 2015 report commissioned by the advocacy coalition called FACES of Peel found many black youth said they felt unwanted, devalued and socially isolated in school. Many also felt they were being streamed to applied verses academic courses based on their skin colour.

The FACES report, launched after violent incidents in recent years in both Peel and Toronto, was followed in 2016 by a PDSB report, which came to similar conclusions.

It’s something now-Grade 12 student Liban Osman said he experienced himself in middle school.

Osman says he was in line to accept an academic award when he was barred from entering a classroom and questioned by a teacher.

“All the students were lining up outside the room to accept our certificates and me and my friend, who is also black, we were near the end of the line,” he said. “Me and my friend were both stopped at the door and we were asked whether we won an award. And we were confused and we were both like, “Ya?”

The honour roll student, who hopes to attend the University of Waterloo next year for math, says he was immediately hurt by the teacher’s actions.

“Inside, I felt like the teacher thought I didn’t fit in with other students academically and I wasn’t able to achieve some of the accomplishments that other students could which really demoralized me at that time,” he said.

The PDSB says it has developed a four-part action plan to address its own problems racism, including training for staff, community consultations and the creation of an advisory council made up of parents, black students and board members.

Sharon Douglas, director of community for the United Way of Peel Region, an organization that co-authored the FACES report, applauds the board for its actions thus far.

“I think part of that change that needs to take place is building the trust within the community,” Douglas said. “They’ve opened the doors and said, ‘We want to hear.’”

Osman, who sits on the newly created We Ride Together advisory council, has recommendations of his own.

“Personally I’d like to see teachers to be a little more sensitive that racism is an issue,” he said. “It’s one of my goals to see a world where blacks, white, whatever colour you are, to live in harmony to not really have to deal with discrimination day in and day out.”