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Peel District School Board dysfunctional, lacking ‘will’ to tackle systemic racism: report

Last Updated Jun 10, 2020 at 1:50 pm EDT

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce speaks in Toronto on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce is threatening to “take action” after a damning report concluded that the Peel District School Board (PDSB) is too dysfunctional and lacks the “will” to tackle anti-Black and systemic racism.

In November 2019, Lecce directed a review of the PDSB after allegations of anti-Black racism and rampant dysfunction within the board. On March 13, 2020, after extensive consultations, Lecce’s office issued numerous directions to the board to tackle the glaring problems.

To assure the issues were being taken seriously, Lecce appointed Arleen Huggins — a lawyer and human rights advocate — to investigate the board’s capacity to comply with the directions.

Huggins’ report, which was submitted to Lecce on May 18, 2020 and made public this week, concluded that the board has “failed to comply” with Lecce’s directions.

“Strong leadership in the face of the damning findings of systemic racism, specifically anti-Black racism, organizational dysfunction, and community distrust and disenfranchisement calls for an understanding of the urgency to respond,” Huggins wrote.

“In their responses to the Minister’s binding Directions, I have not seen any evidence from the Chair or the Vice Chair of an appreciation of their responsibility to provide this leadership …”

“I can arrive at no other conclusion other than that there has been a lack of meaningful action in respect of the Report and a number of the Directions … I have determined that the collective Board and the Director’s Office is lacking both the ability and capacity, and perhaps even more importantly, the will, to address the findings in the Report…”

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Lecce addressed Huggins’ findings on Wednesday.

“We are determined to confront all forms of racism, discrimination, and hate, against all minority communities in our province,” he said in a release. “For too long, too many kids have been left behind due to systemic frameworks that perpetuate racism. This is unacceptable and must change.

“Her report reveals the need for real change within this board and provides a necessary component to ensuring these issues are addressed immediately and effectively.”

Lecce said the report shows “the PDSB lacks the capacity to provide good governance in the interests of all students of the board.”

He also issued a final warning.

“As outlined in the Education Act, I am required to provide a final opportunity for compliance from the Board. My expectation is clear: the Board must change, or I will take further action. We cannot and will not sit idle, while families and students continue to feel isolated, victimized, and targeted.”

Chair of the Peel District School Board, Brad MacDonald, and Director of Education Peter Joshua issued a joint statement on Monday, vowing to address Lecce’s concerns over the report.

“The Minister is also asking for our response by June 22, 2020. We will meet that requirement.

“Our response will include the specific actions that are already underway, and how we will address issues raised by the Investigator, including the division among members and within the senior management of the Board; a comprehensive plan to consult with all community groups; and timelines and deliverables that the Board will meet to implement the plan.

“Let there be no mistake, the leadership team at the Peel District School Board shares a commitment to bring about the changes needed to end the systemic anti-Black racism that exists in our schools, policies and workplaces.

“While our commitment to undertake anti-Black racism work today is real, we acknowledge there is reason for scepticism and mistrust sowed by years of inaction. As educators, we know you expect and deserve better from us.”

Huggins’ specific findings from her report:

  • The Board is dysfunctional and, with no prospect of successful mediation, is incapable of providing good governance. A divided Board cannot provide either the vision or leadership that is required to successfully implement the governance-related Directions that the Board has assumed responsibility for, nor can it provide the appropriate oversight of the Directions that fall under the responsibility of the Director of Education.

 

  • The Board has not demonstrated a willingness to engage in the critical discussions on the substance of the Report, the intention of the Directions, or consider the Directions in a manner other than formal compliance.

 

  • The Board still, after the Review Report and the Directions, has a misunderstanding of anti-Black racism. Further, there is no evidence that the Board has a willingness to engage in the necessary work to gain such an understanding, nor does the Board understand the urgency of the need to do so.

 

  • The Board has failed to understand that its mandate includes engagement with communities, and that respectful, collaborative relationships with communities- particularly Black communities- are essential to fulfilling the Directions and moving the PDSB out of its current crisis of non-confidence.

 

  • The Director of Education has not demonstrated the necessary capacity to lead the implementation of the binding Directions. There is no evidence of urgent and decisive leadership to address the findings in the Report and take the actions necessary to implement the Directions.

 

  • The dysfunction in the Director’s Office remains unaddressed and I have seen no evidence of a plan to resolve the issues underlying the dysfunction. With no prospect for successful mediation, the senior leadership is divided. This dysfunction has, and will, adversely impact the ability to successfully and fully comply with the Directions.

 

  • Staffing at the senior leadership level is impacting on the timing and the quality of responses to the Minister’s binding Directions. Continued limited and unsatisfactory responses and non-compliance are probable outcomes.