Edmonton Public Schools to become first Alberta board to collect race-based data

Edmonton Public Schools will become the first jurisdiction in Alberta to collect race-based data for students after the board voted unanimously in favour of the motion Tuesday.

‘This is about finding ways to best support students, in particular racialized students'

Edmonton Public School Board Chair Trisha Estabrooks says consultation with communities impacted by racism is critical. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Edmonton Public Schools will become the first jurisdiction in Alberta to collect race-based data for students in areas such as achievement, discipline and attendance.

The motion was formally endorsed at Tuesday's school board meeting when trustees voted unanimously in favour of directing administration to develop a model to collect race-based data to dismantle systemic racism and racial discrimination.

"I think that if we are serious about addressing it, which I believe that we all are, then collecting race-based data is the first and necessary step," said Trisha Estabrooks, board chair, in her opening remarks.

"And I'd also say if we want change, which again, I believe we all do, then we must first understand the gaps and the inequities in order to come up with policies. This is about finding ways to best support students, in particular racialized students."

The move comes as protests around racial inequality have swept across North America this year with many in Edmonton demanding better from police, schools, media and government.

Edmonton's public school board has grappled with its own issues around systemic racism, which led to the resignation of a trustee and the endorsement of a new model to replace the controversial resource officer program. The board also recently voted to rename two schools: Dan Knott School and Oliver School.

The board will consult with Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities impacted by racism on how the data will be collected.

"Their voice is absolutely essential," Estabrooks said.

Improved policy making, resource allocation

The administration will also seek advice from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), which has been collecting race-based data since 2006. 

"The results and findings of this first Student and Parent Census have been leveraged both within and outside the school board for improvement planning, programming, policy making, resource allocation, as well as solicitation of funding and resources for high needs school communities," states a report provided to Edmonton Public Schools trustees.

The TDSB's first survey drew a response from 84 per cent of students despite optional participation, which would also be the case in Edmonton.

"But I think that we need to do a really good job of building that compelling case to participate in the student census, because it does give us good information to inform decision making and resource distribution in our division," superintendent Darrel Robertson told trustees at Tuesday's board meeting.

Provincial data-collection?

The motion also calls for a letter to be sent to Alberta's minister of education requesting the implementation of data-collection in all provincial schools — a step trustee Michael Janz spoke about enthusiastically.

"Because ultimately we are all in this together as many of our students move back and forth between various jurisdictions … but also looking at how we can better support students all throughout Alberta," Janz said, adding it would also provide an opportunity to collaborate.

In 2017, the Ontario government began collecting and analyzing the data of students' ethnicity to eliminate discriminatory practices, systemic barriers and bias from schools to support all students to succeed.

The unanimous vote comes as little surprise given trustees collaborated to craft the recommendation. 

While the data would be collected anonymously, trustee Bridget Stirling said some families are concerned it could lead to profiling of students. Robertson said it's an issue the board will work through in consultation with the privacy officer and the province, as well as drawing on the TDSB's experience.

A few trustees emphasized the importance of being able to provide a timeline to the public but Robertson said it's difficult with such complex work. He estimated it could take two years.

Estabrooks said the work prior to data collection is critical.

"I think we're hearing that it's important to take our time on the consultation," she said. 

Trustee Nathan Ip asked if the collection of the data would include the composition of staff but Robertson urged the board to tackle one project at a time.

"I highly encourage all of us to just manage expectations because we are dealing with a pandemic right now," Robertson said. 

"I just would highly encourage lots of patience as we move through this process."