Our Family’s Experience in the Ontario Education System Shows a Pattern of Racism
By Charline Grant
Photo supplied by author
Aug 4, 2020
My son’s first experience with racism was in a government run daycare.
The supervisor claimed that she overheard the children talking and thought my son said something that was alarming, so she called Children’s Aid Society (CAS).
I did not get a call from the daycare. Instead, that night I got a knock on my door. CAS wanted to speak with us because the daycare was concerned about my son. After speaking with the rep, she ended up apologizing. According to her, there were no issues and she had no concerns with our son and the file was closed.
Want to know how to raise anti-racist kids? This mother believes that it's important to look at yourself in the mirror first. Read about that here.
I couldn’t believe I had come that close to losing my son to the system, just because a supervisor thought she had “heard something.”
The next morning, I had a meeting with the supervisor. It was revealed that she had profiled my child — she didn’t think he had a father in the home. The CAS board issued an apology and vowed to implement changes. I cried myself to sleep that night.
I am a wife and a mother of three children — they’re 10, 16 and 18 years old. We live in Ontario.
Today I am on the board of Parents of Black Children, a non-profit advocacy group helping parents navigate the education system when their children are victims of anti- Black racism.
It is interesting how becoming a parent has so quickly changed my perspective and thrust me into roles I never saw for myself.
This is not the job I dreamt about as a child or studied for in college — in a way it chose me. But in this position, what I’ve learned is that my children have experienced a myriad of microaggressions at school — many of which initially went right over my head.
In Grade 6, my son was told by his teacher that she chose him, because none of the other teachers wanted him. I couldn’t believe educators were having these conversations about an 11-year-old boy.
That same year, the school tried to stream our child. They suspected he had a learning disability because he was averaging Bs and Cs. We knew our son preferred playing soccer and basketball, and was performing well considering it was French immersion, so we ignored their request to involve a psychologist.
If there were further concerns, we would get help.
Streaming — or grouping kids by perceived needs or abilities — is a practice that has often affected Black families.
A few years later, I was informed by 13 different Black families that the same conversations were had with their kids that year. One of those students proved to be gifted in math and science, while 12 others left French immersion entirely.
These experiences led me to teach survival skills to my kids — primarily that we are our biggest, loudest advocates.
As a Black parent, this mom knows "the talk" is coming — the the inevitable conversation when racism comes knocking at their door. Read here how she introduces the subject to kids.
In kindergarten, my daughter was advised to leave French immersion because she didn’t sit still on the carpet and she was hugging people too much. Today she is in Grade 10 French immersion.
And this is why I fight for my kids, and any kids who are being streamed out of this system. There has not been a year since kindergarten that I haven’t had to write a letter or meet with an educator — each instance provoked by a microaggression or racist issue, whether intended or not.
Then I sued the York Region School Board at the Ontario Human Rights tribunal. It was a very public fight, and as a result other parents began reaching out to me on Twitter asking for help. I heard from parents in Peel, Halton, Durham, Windsor, London, Hamilton and even Nova Scotia.
"In 2017, former GTA school board trustee Nancy Elgie called me the n-word."
It became clear to me that this wasn’t just an Ontario problem. It had become embedded in our education system.
I wouldn’t say the education system is broken. I believe a more accurate statement is that it was not designed with Black people in mind, so in a way I feel as though it is working as designed.
In 2017, former GTA school board trustee Nancy Elgie called me the n-word. We demanded her resignation, and she resigned.
I thought maybe I could help more people if I was on the inside, so I ran for trustee in 2018 against an incumbent who had held office for 18 years. I came in second, and a month after she was sworn in, she stepped down. Instead of appointing me as her replacement, they held a byelection. In York Region, since 1991, each time a seat became vacant, they filled that vacancy by appointment.
"The work is not easy, it is a labour of love. Our children's future depends on us not giving up."
I decided to file a complaint against the school board in the human rights court, and it’s still ongoing.
Prior to filing the complaint, I sat down with my 15-year-old and told him our plans and explained to him what that may look like for him. I told him that I know this is a tall order for a 15-year-old, but I believe it would be important so his 6-year-old brother wouldn’t have to endure the same things.
I needed him to be on his best behaviour, and damn near perfect, because going forward, everything he did would be scrutinized and challenged. I think that without fully understanding what he was agreeing to he said, “mom, it’s OK, I can do it, I won’t want to move schools for them to think I am running away, I want to be there and help you fight.”
And fight we have.
Black people have a complicated relationship with the police, so this is how one dad talks to kids about that. Read it here.
Since the death of George Floyd, I feel as though I have been having an out of body experience. I have been working and protesting and it’s been like an explosion of emotions. I’ve felt outrage, anger, hope, fear and determination. I finally exhaled about a week ago, and I couldn’t stop my tears. My tears were for all the Georges that had been taken from us and my ancestors who fought for freedom and possibility.
The work is not easy, it is a labour of love. Our children's future depends on us not giving up. As a family, we have decided that we will call out the racism we experience, and we will not accept racism from anyone.
My oldest son could have become part of a statistic of Black children removed from their parents, because of a call to Children’s Aid from an educational institution. That was just one moment, and it started the fire and passion I have for protecting my kids as a Black mother.
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