Kitchener-Waterloo

Waterloo Region District School Board to review demands of Black Parent Council

Staff with the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) have been asked by trustees to come up with a report and recommendations based on an open letter from the region’s Black Parent Council.

Board has made progress on equity, but has more to do, says chair of trustees

Waterloo Region District School Board sign outside their main office.

Staff with the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) have been asked by trustees to come up with a report and recommendations based on an open letter from the Black Parent Council - KW. 

Last month, the parent council sent the letter to both the WRDSB and the Waterloo Catholic District School Board, calling for 12 action items that include: 

  • Commissioning a third-party investigation into racial violence at the two school boards. 
  • Increasing funding for child and youth workers, social workers, psychologists and culturally responsive mental wellness supports. 
  • Offering an Afrocentric Saturday school for elementary students. 

Lena Thibeh, co-founder of the parent council, said the trustees' direction will bring the school board a step closer "to building a more inclusive and equitable space for our children to thrive." 

Still, Thibeh said she was left with concerns following Monday's meeting

During the meeting, trustee Mike Ramsey said he felt "all this will amount to is the development of strategies related to race, that are not so much about helping people that need real help."

"I'm really saddened that my colleagues … seem inclined to feel that we need to pay people to tell them how racist they are," he said. 

Ramsey went on to say he felt that different levels of government need to fix the issues communities face, without practicing "identity politics."

In an interview with CBC News, Thibeh called Ramsey's comments "anti-Black" and said they don't reflect the lived reality of parents and students in Waterloo region. 

"He's saying that that is identity politics, when we have children who are struggling to focus because they're so scared of being policed and surveilled by their teachers," said Thibeh. 

Thibeh said she's received about two dozen messages from parents and students who said they were hurt by Ramsey's comments.

"I had a sea of parents and and students messaging me," said Tibeh. "They were so shocked that a Black man would be so ... vile toward our community."

"Because he's a Black man, the automatic assumption is that he's going to be helpful toward the Black community," said Thibeh. "He's supposed to be protecting us. He's supposed to be helping us protect and move our children forward in life to thrive."

"It was horrific."

Not possible to remove trustees

Thibeh said people also expressed concern about comments made by trustee Cindy Watson related to a review of school library and classroom reading materials. Thibeh said she's concerned Ramsey and Watson's presence on the board of trustees may restrict the board's ability to become more inclusive. 

The Black Parent Council has previously called for both of their removal, something trustee Watson said she was "saddened by."

"However, I will continue to serve and advocate for all students, parents and staff and do my very best to fulfil my duties under the education act while adhering to our own policies and bylaws, as I've continued to do for the last 22 years as a democratically elected official," she said to CBC News by email. 

Ramsey was not immediately available for comment. 

Board chair Scott Piatkowski said it isn't possible to remove trustees, unless they stop showing up or have committed an indictable offence.

Trustees are elected during the municipal election process. The next municipal election will be held Monday, Oct. 2022.

The parent council's letter and list of demands came in the wake of two incidents involving racialized students at the two school boards. 

In October, a teacher at Alpine Public School allegedly taped the hands of two students to discipline them. The teacher is now facing criminal charges. 

In November, police were called to John Sweeney Catholic Elementary School to deal with the behaviour of a four-year-old Black student. The incident came to light in February and prompted a provincial investigation. 

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story included a misspelling of Lena Thibeh's last name.
    Apr 13, 2022 4:18 PM ET

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