Ontario's education minister says he's prepared to make changes at a Toronto-area school board struggling with allegations of systemic racism if the organization can't take action on its own.
Stephen Lecce says a recently completed report on the Peel District School Board, serving ethnically diverse municipalities west of Toronto, suggests the organization is not committed to addressing racism in its ranks.
The report, prepared by human rights advocate Arleen Huggins, was a direct followup to a previous review that found anti-black racism was a persistent problem in the school board.
Lecce made 27 binding orders to address the issue, and Huggins was asked to ensure that the school board's staff and board members were complying with the government directions.
Huggins's report says several of the key orders are not being followed, including a demand to come up with an anti-racism policy based on meaningful consultation with affected communities.
A statement from the school board says it is committed to fighting anti-black racism and will comply with a new demand from Lecce stating it must present a plan to address Huggins' findings by June 22.
Lecce said the report clearly shows that real change is needed within the Peel board.
"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," Lecce said in a statement without providing further details. "We cannot and will not sit idle, while families and students continue to feel isolated, victimized, and targeted."
Huggins found failure to comply with several of the 27 recommendations Lecce issued in March following a review of the school board.
The third-party review found that while black students make up only 10.2 per cent of the secondary school population, they account for about 22.5 per cent of the Peel board students receiving suspensions.
The reviewers heard anecdotally that some principals "use any excuse" to suspend black students, including wearing hoodies or hoop earrings.
Recent school board data shows that about 83 per cent of secondary school students are racialized, compared to staffing ratios showing two thirds of teachers are white.
When citing instances of non-compliance, Huggins found there was dysfunction both among the board of trustees and key school board staff tasked with addressing systemic racism.
She found some high-profile board members fundamentally misunderstood some of the issues at hand, made no effort to engage in meaningful community consultations, and seemed more concerned about technically complying with the government recommendations than bringing about meaningful change.
"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," Huggins wrote in her assessment. "Therefore future non-compliance with the minister’s binding directions is probable."
Peel's director of education Peter Joshua and board chair Brad MacDonald issued a joint statement acknowledging the existence of anti-black racism and promising concrete plans to address the issue by June 22, in accordance with Lecce's latest order.
"While our commitment to undertake anti-black racism work today is real, we acknowledge there is reason for skepticism and mistrust sowed by years of inaction," the statement said. "As educators, we know you expect and deserve better from us."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2020.
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press