Nova Scotia

Halifax school board candidates want plan for struggling students overhauled

Candidates say a disproportionate number of African Nova Scotian students have an individualized program plan and that it can affect plans for post-secondary education.

Disproportionate number of African Nova Scotian students have an individual program plan

Archy Beals, Melinda Daye and Marcus James are running to be the Halifax Regional School Board's African Nova Scotian member. Daye holds that position now.

All three candidates running to be the African Nova Scotian member of the Halifax Regional School Board agree changes are needed to improve individual program plans.

Individual program plans, also known as IPPs, are generally developed for students who are struggling in school. A review of them released in February noted that a disproportionate number of IPP students identified as African Nova Scotian or Indigenous.

Of 2,341 students with an IPP in the Halifax Regional School Board in January 2015, 273 — or 11.7 per cent — self-identified as a student with African ancestry. 

Bright children recommended 

Marcus James, one of the candidates for the school board, said he has heard from a lot of concerned parents.

"In speaking with black parents within the black community, I'm finding out just how many of our kids are actually on it. I'm also finding out some of our very best kids were recommended for these programs. To me, it just seems high," said James.

James, whose son had an IPP, said having it on a high school transcript can create hurdles for students who want to go to university. He said while it's possible students with IPPs can go on to post-secondary, it can send the wrong message.

"If you're put on this program at the early age, of let's say nine [years old] or Grade 3, and it follows you throughout your academic career, then the message that it conveys to ... that learner is 'OK, you can no longer go to university.'"

Examining learning styles

Another candidate, Archy Beals, works at the Nova Scotia Community College with students looking to advance their education. He sees first-hand how an IPP can be a barrier to students considering post-secondary education.

"I'm working with a young man now who wants to go to university but graduated two years ago and because he has IPP on his transcripts, he has to do a test even to get into NSCC. So you see there are some things that really need to happen," said Beals.

Beals said learning styles need to be examined. He said the Afrocentric Alternative School in the Toronto District School Board is a model that could work in the Halifax Regional School Board.

The Afrocentric Alternative School in Toronto creates a sense of community for black students in ways that traditional public schools have not. Students are also taught more about black history in Canada, learning about black role models.

"It's not like we need to recreate the wheel, we just need to borrow the wheel that's already been created," he said.

Student success key

Melinda Daye is the current African Nova Scotian member for the Halifax Regional School Board and is also the school board's chair. She got school board staff to look into the demographics of the students with IPPs and said she has more questions.

"We need to look at how many of our students are on [an IPP]. We have that. How many of them are staying on it or have stayed on it until they were in Grade 12? Was that absolutely necessary? We have a question around that," said Daye.

Daye said teacher-student relationships need to be examined. She said not every student on an IPP needs to stay on one until graduation. She said parents she's been speaking with are asking her to find out more about other issues too like bussing, student-teacher relationships and test scores.

"We want to make sure that our kids succeed ... that they're able to get into the appropriate universities, community colleges, that they can get in there and do well," she said. 

IPP not negative

A 2015 review of individual program plans made several recommendations on next steps for the Halifax Regional School Board.

Some of those recommendations included having an appointed note-taker to record minutes of meetings, individual consultations with families, staff and students and a plan to be developed to monitor student progress on the plan.

Halifax Regional School Board spokesman Doug Hadley said those changes are being followed. He said IPPs should not be looked at as being negative.

"IPPs are individual in their very nature. They get looked at at least twice a year and reviewed by the school program planning team. They are established each year for the student moving forward," said Hadley. "If at some point it's determined the IPP is an not a support they're required to have in place, they're taken off that." ​

Hadley said an IPP is only undertaken when all other strategies have been exhausted. 


Anjuli Patil


Anjuli Patil is a reporter and occasional video journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team.