Advocates in Toronto demand equity in education for Black students in Ontario

More than 100 people gathered at Toronto city hall and at the Ontario Legislature on Saturday to demand equity in education for the province's Black students.

Parents of Black Children hold march, drive-by procession to demand change

Participants in the March for Black Students walk along University Avenue toward the Ontario legislature. (Ivan Arsovski/CBC)

More than 100 people gathered at Toronto city hall and at the Ontario Legislature on Saturday to demand equity in education for the province's Black students.

At the event, demonstrators presented 10 demands that they said would help to dismantle anti-Black racism in Ontario's education system. Black students face obstacles to achievement and are given fewer opportunities than other students to succeed, organizers said.

"The main message is Black students deserve success," said Claudette Rutherford, an organizer of Parents of Black Children, a community advocacy group that organized the event.

"They deserve all the opportunities that every other student gets across this province and across this country."

First, the demonstrators rallied at Nathan Phillips Square. Then they made their way to Queen's Park, some on foot and others by car. Given the forecast, which called for thunderstorms, the organizers decided to hold a drive-by procession in case of rain. But because the rain did not materialize until later, some demonstrators walked to the legislature.

"We know there are quite a few disparities and obstacles to Black students' success all across the province, but we also know there is a collusion between and among systems that makes it very difficult for Black families to succeed and we want that to end," Rutherford added.

At Queen's Park, the demonstrators rallied again, holding signs and listening to speakers.

Kearie Daniel, a founder of Parents of Black Children, said the group organized the March for Black Students because bolder action is needed by the Ontario government to improve the school experience of Black children.

Demonstrators in Nathan Phillips Square present 10 demands that they say would help to dismantle anti-Black racism in Ontario's education system. (Ivan Arsovski/CBC)

After last year's march, Daniel said the government decided to end streaming of students in Grade 9 math and to end suspensions of students from kindergarten to Grade 3. It also amended the Ontario College of Teachers Act to include racism and discrimination as grounds for professional misconduct.

But she said the province could end streaming of students in all subjects and it could prevent in-school suspensions. She said very young Black children are still being pulled out of class and sent to the principal's office, even if they are not being sent home. As well, individual schools are not required to report teachers who are guilty of professional misconduct based on racism. 

Actions have not gone far enough, organizer says

Daniel said provincial actions have not gone far enough to address systemic issues for Black students within the education system.

According to the website of Parents of Black Children, its 10 demands are as follows:

  • Reform the Ontario Education Act to identify Black students as having a right to an Africentric curriculum that represents them, to include Black experiences in all aspects of education, and to promote equitable and equal programs, activities or projects for Black students that are controlled, managed and delivered by Black people.
  • Investigate education school boards that participate in "systems abuse" against Black children. Systems abuse is defined as the collusion of systems to protect one another and it occurs when school boards refuse to investigate issues that affect Black children and their families.
  • Decolonize the curriculum, which means Black experiences must be built into school curriculums and that includes such subjects as math, science and social studies.
  • Eliminate all streaming to ensure that Black students can reach their full potential. 
  • Make schools across the province "police free."
  • Collect race-based data on student achievement, discipline and experiences and implement external equity audits of school boards.
  • Train, hire and retain Black teachers.
  • Specify how teachers who display anti-Black racism will be held accountable.
  • End what is called Socio-Emotional Learning. The group wants Education Minister Stephen Lecce to remove "racist and harmful socio-emotional learning pedagogy" from the Ontario curriculum.
  • Implement a student and parent bill of rights.

Daniel said the rally and drive-by procession marked the second year that Parents of Black Children have organized such an event. Parents of Black Children is a group formed to support and advocate on behalf of Black students and their families.

The group says it works to address and dismantle anti-Black racism and systemic barriers within the education system, aiming to ensure that Black children can access an equitable and peaceful education.

It describes itself as a safe and supportive place for parents and Black students to share experiences, discuss issues, develop strategies and draw up recommendations to improve the experience of Black students within schools.

Province says racism has no place in Ontario schools

Caitlin Clark, a spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said in an email on Saturday that racism and discrimination have no place in Ontario's school system.

Clark said the province recognizes there is more work to be done, however, and it announced on June 7 new measures to address policies and practices that have negatively affected Black students and to support anti-racism work underway in schools.

She said Lecce also announced measures to promote human rights and equity in Ontario's school boards and those "accountability" measures will be in effect in the coming school year. 

"We will continue to introduce transformational change, including destreaming the Grade 9 math curriculum and ending discretionary suspensions for students from kindergarten to Grade 3, which disproportionately impacted racialized children," Clark said in the email. 

As well, the province has issued a mandate that requires all education staff, trustees, and senior school board staff to have human rights, anti-racism and anti-discrimination training, and it rescinded Regulation 274 under the Education Act, a move that means hiring will be done based on merit, qualification, and diversity in Ontario, she said. 

"We will continue to take action to counter racism and act to ensure all students feel safe, respected, and included within Ontario's schools," Clark added.

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.