Ottawa·ELECTION 2018

The Fix: A lack of diversity in Ottawa schools

With the Oct. 22 municipal election just around the corner, CBC Ottawa's All In A Day is collecting municipal gripes — and seeking solutions.

Series shares voter concerns, from affordable housing to potholes

At CBC All In A Day's special election storytelling pop-up, Mante Molepo, Susan Odle and Barâa Arar share ideas on how to make schools more diverse and enriching for everyone. 5:26

With the Oct. 22 municipal election just around the corner, CBC Ottawa's All In A Day is collecting municipal gripes and seeking solutions.

The show has invited eight listeners to share stories about a specific time they've felt let down by the City of Ottawa, from an over-proliferation of potholes to missing sidewalks at bus stops.

Their stories were gathered Oct. 3 at a pop-up community event called The Fix, hosted by CBC Radio's Alan Neal.

In the first edition we heard from Graham Winter, who'd lived in an Ottawa Community Housing [OCH] building on Caldwell Avenue for nearly a decade.

Next was Sally Thomas, a former Paralympic powerlifter who has a bone to pick with an OC Transpo stop.

The latest story comes from Mante Molepo, who's taking her experiences with two generations of students of colour in Ottawa high schools to her role as co-founder of the organization Parents for Diversity.

"I went to Colonel By [Secondary School], which is a predominantly white high school, and we experienced subtle and overt racism," she said.

"One recollection I have is that it was a friend's birthday. We were decorating her locker and somebody walked by and wrote the N-word on it. When we reported it to the principal, it was a non-issue."

Molepo said she eventually moved to another school.

Now her kids, who are biracial, are enrolled in the area's French Catholic school system.

"[I've seen] them be exposed to racism at a young age … coming home with comments about someone saying not to touch them because they're not white," she said.

Her fix?

Molepo would like to see changes to the school system.

"Fundamentally, I think there's a lack of diversity with the decision-makers," she said.

"We need representation at the board level to have diverse voices — gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion — then we can achieve what we're all trying to achieve, which is student excellence."

An artist in the audience said that approach would hopefully trickle down.

"If we can foster dialogue between our kids, they can absorb more content from their peers than you or me talking down to them as an authority figure," said Susan Odle, who suggested holding a writing competition to promote the idea.

All In A Day is committed to pursuing solutions to all of the problems that have been identified as part of The Fix. 

On Friday, Neal spoke with the two Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustee candidates for Innes and Beacon Hill-Cyrville (zone 12): Sandra Schwartz and Rawlson King. Mante attended school in zone 12.

Rawlson King

Primarily, I can completely commiserate with what Mante is saying, because I am a black Canadian. That is one of the reasons I am running. I don't think there is enough diversity around the table.

We have 50,000 black people within this region, and we don't have anybody representing us around the school board table.

One of the bad decisions I was personally involved in as the president of a community association was the closure of Rideau High School.

It was in a low-income community, had lots of people of colour, lots of Indigenous people, a Syrian refugee population, and the board decided to close it.

Primarily, Ms. Schwartz was someone who supported that closure.

I was on the other side of the table actually fighting to keep the school open. I think having representation around the table is important. I think we need to have budgetary components at the board that actually look at an equity lens, ensuring there is an equity lens to what occurs.

We have to look at decolonization of our curriculums. We have to have more curriculum that deals with Indigenous people and more curriculum that deals with racialized people.

Sandra Schwartz

I can certainly speak to what we have been doing at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, and equity being one of the key strategic pillars.  

There is no question that we have demonstrated, as a board, a commitment to learning equity, well-being and engagement. I personally am very committed to equity of educational opportunities and outcomes, and that is why I voted in favour of amalgamating Rideau together with Gloucester, because we wanted to ensure that all the children were receiving the opportunities they deserve.

When you have half-full schools you simply don't get those opportunities. We can't provide the programming that all those children deserve.

As leaders, I think it is up to us to ensure that all individuals feel safe, valued, respected and welcome in our schools. When they don't, we need to hear about it.