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Peel school board 'dysfunctional' in face of racism, can't govern properly, report finds

A newly-released report on the state of the Peel District School Board paints a damning picture of dysfunction among administrators who are ill-prepared to deal with anti-Black racism directly affecting students.

Education minister says board must change or he will 'take further action'

A new, provincially-commissioned report says there are widespread issues with the Peel District School Board. (CBC)

A newly-released report on the state of the Peel District School Board (PDSB) paints a damning picture of dysfunction among administrators who are ill-prepared to deal with anti-Black racism directly affecting students.

The province released a report it had commissioned from lawyer and human rights advocate Arleen Huggins on Monday, in which she investigated the school board's capacity to comply with a host of directives from Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce after a review of the board found issues of systemic racism.

In her report, Huggins wrote that the school board and director's office is "lacking both the ability and capacity, and perhaps even more importantly, the will," to address issues found by the ministry, and therefore non-compliance with Lecce's directions is "probable."

"The board is dysfunctional and, with no prospect of successful mediation, is incapable of providing good governance," Huggins wrote.

"The board still, after the review report and the directions, has a misunderstanding of anti-Black racism. Further, there is no evidence that the board has a willingness to engage in the necessary work to gain such an understanding, nor does the board understand the urgency of the need to do so."

In a statement issued Monday, Lecce said he is required by the Education Act to provide a "final opportunity for compliance from the board.

"My expectation is clear: the board must change, or I will take further action," Lecce said.

"We cannot and will not sit idle, while families and students continue to feel isolated, victimized, and targeted."

Decades of racism

In a joint statement issued Monday, Chair of the Board Brad MacDonald and Director of Education Peter Joshua said the PDSB's leadership team is committed to bringing about the "changes needed to end the systemic anti-Black racism that exists in our schools, policies and workplaces.

"While our commitment to undertake anti-Black racism work today is real, we acknowledge there is reason for scepticism and mistrust sowed by years of inaction. As educators, we know you expect and deserve better from us," the board said.

"The Black community in the Peel District School Board, and colleagues and students have been telling us for decades that anti-Black racism is part of their daily lived experiences. To date, as a school board, we have not been successful in eradicating anti-Black racism."

Education Minister Stephen Lecce says he has given the school board a deadline this month to come up with a plan to address the 'key findings' of the report. (Rene Johnston/The Canadian Press)

Lecce had asked the board to regularly report on equity, conduct a diversity audit, develop a learning plan for senior staff on equity and anti-Black racism, track race-based data on suspensions and consider apologizing to the Black community.

A third-party review of the board found that Black students are only 10.2 per cent of the secondary school population, but about 22.5 per cent of the students receiving suspensions.

The reviewers heard anecdotally that some principals "use any excuse" to suspend Black students, including wearing hoodies or hoop earrings.

Recent school board data shows that about 83 per cent of secondary school students in the board are racialized, and the reviewers say about two-thirds of teachers in the board are white.

Lecce has previously said one element of the report that was especially troubling was that disproportionate numbers of Black students are being streamed into applied streams of education, rather than into university-focused courses.

June deadline set

In her report, Huggins wrote that the board has failed to understand that its mandate "includes engagement with communities, and that respectful, collaborative relationships with communities — particularly Black communities — are essential to fulfilling the [minister's] directions and moving the PDSB out of its current crisis of non-confidence."

She also says the school board has an "adversarial approach" to Black communities, which is preventing it from "seeking and seizing opportunities to rebuild trust and repair damaged relationships."

In a news release issued Monday, the province said Lecce has "provided a direction" to the school board in response to the report, saying the board is required to show that it can work together with management to "provide good governance in the interests of all students."

The province says the board has been given a deadline of June 22 to come up with a plan to address the key findings in the report. The board said Monday it would meet that requirement.

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press

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