School board pledges anti-Black racism audit after widespread allegations of systemic racism

The Greater Essex County District School Board is moving forward with its own anti-Black racism audit.

The board says it is in the process of hiring an independent party to perform the audit

The Greater Essex County District School Board's director of education Erin Kelly says the board takes these issues 'very seriously.' (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

The Greater Essex County District School Board is moving forward with its own anti-Black racism audit.

The director of education Erin Kelly said the board wants to "identify and eliminate [anti-Black racism] from our schools."

The move to conduct the audit comes after a group representing more than 50 African, Black and Caribbean leaders and organizations in Windsor-Essex sent a letter to Ontario's education minister requesting a diversity audit and provincial guardianship of the public school board. 

The letter, written by the Black Council of Windsor-Essex (BCWE), claimed a longstanding pattern of "anti-Black racism, bias and mistreatment," within the board. 

In response to the board's move to perform an audit, acting chair of the BCWE told CBC News Thursday that she is "pleased." 

"It is an important first step," McCurdy said.

"We're really hopeful that all of this helps to create an environment that'll be more comfortable for our children to be educated within." 

In an email to CBC Windsor, Kelly said Wednesday that the board is "in the process" of choosing an independent party to perform an audit and inquiry into anti-Black racism within the board. 

Leslie McCurdy, acting chair of the Black Council of Windsor-Essex, says many generations of the Black community have experienced racism in the Greater Essex County District School Board. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

"Our board must commit to unlearning, learning and doing better. We must identify and act, and that is what we intend to do," Kelly said in the email. 

Outlined in the letter are 11 issues the BCWE says it is most concerned with. Each point references either an alleged incident of racism at a school, or focuses on the "toxic and dangerous environment" created in schools for students and staff, over the decades.

McCurdy told CBC News that since the letter was sent, she had a meeting with Patrick Case, assistant deputy minister, education equity secretariat.

According to McCurdy, Case said the Ministry of Education will not move forward with a diversity audit. 

Kelly however, said she and the school board chair have met with members of the Black Council of Windsor Essex. Kelly said she appreciates the time members spent helping to inform the board and administration. 

"We take these issues very seriously," Kelly said. 

'Easy to say things'

And while McCurdy said she is "hopeful" about the board's actions, she does want to see meaningful change. 

"I mean it's very easy to say things," she said.

"The work of exploring anti-racism and how deeply engrained it is in our cultures and institutions is really, really difficult and sometimes it can be a painful journey. As long as people are willing to engage in it with an openness then I can see we will have some progress."

Most recently, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) performed its own equity audit. The year-long process, which ended in fall 2020, led to 70 recommendations. 

"My advice is that as they see the recommendations, through their audit that they do, create an action plan," said HWDSB's superintendent of human resources Jamie Nunn.

The public school board's director of education Erin Kelly says they want to identify and eliminate anti-Black racism in their schools. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"So the audit is one piece but the work is in the action plan — the implementation of the recommendations." 

The HWDSB is now working on implementing the recommendations, which included diversifying the workforce and creating more equitable policies. 

McCurdy says the board has consulted with her on possible auditors. She says from her understanding the GECDSB is looking to get the process started as soon as possible. 


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