Group calls on Ontario Human Rights Commission to investigate ‘systems abuse’ of Black students

The advocacy group Parents of Black Children is calling on the human rights commission to investigate the reality of anti-Black racism in the education system. Shauna Hunt explains a new report and its disturbing findings.

By Meredith Bond and Shauna Hunt

Parents of Black Children (PoBC) are calling on the Human Rights Commission to investigate the “systems abuse” of Black students in Ontario schools following a report conducted by the advocacy group.

The group focuses on helping parents of Black children who have issues related to their child’s schooling navigate the education system.

They define “systems abuse” as a system or institution that neglects or abuses a child in their care through program, policy, procedure, or individual interaction. According to PoBC, it occurs when a child’s fundamental rights are exploited or violated.

PoBC says to date, they have helped over 216 families, approximately two-and-a-half per week, in fighting for equity and justice since launching their Systems Navigation program through funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation in September of 2020.

“Through this position, we have been privy to alarming acts of racism and unsettling incidents impacting black students within Ontario’s education system,” said Executive Director of PoBC Keaire Daniel.

A report released Thursday titled “A call to action: Systems abuse of Black students within Ontario’s education system,” outlines “the negative consequences of systems abuse focusing on providing case study examples of incidents we have worked to resolve.”

“It’s important that we approach any work related to anti-Black racism within our education system as a crisis. Racism is violence. Racism is trauma,” said Daniel.

“For too long, our black children in Ontario have been subjected to anti-Black racism perpetrated by educators, administration system leaders and other students. Our children are leaving school exhibiting post-traumatic stress, often not able to comprehend what they have faced fully.”

Some of the other main issues families have experienced which are highlighted in the report are racial abuse, a lack of accountability, shifting goalposts, weaponizing of Children’s Aid Society and police against Black families, use of racial slurs, and the streaming of Black children from Kindergarten.

There are five different case studies of how PoBC has responded to incidents from families in their report.

In March of 2021, PoBC launched an anti-Black racism reporting tool on their website for education workers. Since then, they have received over 150 reports. These incidents have been summarized.

More than 50 per cent were about anti-Black actions or comments between staff and students. Racist bullying between students not being adequately dealt with accounted for 26 per cent of reports.

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) led the way with 13 per cent of the reports, while the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) was close behind, at 11 per cent. Toronto schools, including the Toronto Catholic District School Board, combined had 38 reports of incidents.

While Halton Region school boards only accounted for three per cent of incidents, PoBC’s report noted that they had been called in to support multiple families from the region who have reached out to other agencies.

One of the incidents of note from Halton was “an ongoing issue of systemic racism and anti-Black racism from guidance staff at an unnamed high school is known to the board, but nothing is being done to address it.”

A noteworthy finding was only 18 per cent of education workers who made reports raised their concerns with their union and the school board, and 35 per cent said they would have felt comfortable pitching their problems with the board.

“This was significant because it shows the level of oppression that even educators within the system are facing themselves,” said Student and Family Advocate Xavier McLaughlin.

“What we found is that the vast majority of respondents do not feel comfortable navigating the education system. And that’s for many reasons. Some of them we spoke about before in regards to educators feeling uncomfortable navigating their own systems, but for families, it becomes even more difficult,” added McLaughlin.

PoBC intends to submit this report to the Ontario Human Rights Commission and insist they conduct a full inquiry into anti-Black racism in education systems in Ontario.

The Ministry of Education tells CityNews, they are currently reviewing the PoBC report.

“We remain squarely focused on driving racism out of our schools and our province — by ensuring real accountability for those who perpetrate hate,” read a statement from the Minister of Education’s spokesperson.

They cited the mandating province-wide anti-racism training for all educators, trustees and senior board leadership and ending the practice of de-streaming and discretionary suspensions which disproportionately impact racialized students as examples of their work to end racism in schools.

“We know there is more to do, and we will continue to take action province-wide and hold school boards accountable to challenge the status quo and deliver positive and fulfilling experiences for all children, irrespective of their heritage, faith, orientation, or colour of skin,” continued their statement.

The TCDSB said they recognize that incidents of anti-Black racism and other forms of racism and discrimination exist in their schools.

“Our ongoing commitment to anti-racist and anti-oppression education aims to ensure that everyone feels a sense of belonging and is encouraged, as well as supported to thrive and succeed,” said a spokesperson. “We also recognize that there is still more to do. We need to better understand who our students are and their lived experiences within our system.”

TCDSB said they recently launched an identity-based data collection to identify and monitor disparities within their school system and to inform decisions that change outcomes for Black students.

CityNews has reached out to the Halton District School Board (HDSB) but have not received a response.

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