Addressing Systemic Racism in York District School Board

york region school board

Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter was very disturbed by recent findings from a review into the York District School Board concerning reports of a culture of fear mongering and heightened systemic racism against Black and Muslim students. One such example was of anti-Muslim sentiments uttered on social media by a principal from a principal at that board. Minister Mitzie Hunter has taken necessary initiative to address the issues in a n attempt to regain public confidence in the province’s third largest school board. -CBC News

Racism affects everyone like a cancer and needs to be addressed in order to foster an inclusive and equitable learning environment where students feel comfortable and welcome, so they can focus more on learning instead of managing toxic attitudes and conduct of persons entrusted to lead them into a bright future. Late in 2016  Minister Hunter was called in amidst controversy and allegations of racist the  remarks made by another of the boards’ member (Nancy Elgie) who uttered a racial slurr toward a black parent, whom she called Nigger. The board took an inordinate amount of time to address the issue which calls into question the responsibility and accountability of leaders.  Elgie eventually, after quite some time and mounting public pressure, publicly apologized for her language, citing a head injury as excuse for her comments. Its apparent she felt safe and comfortable enough in her response to the parent and if left unattended would have continued on in her role. Perhaps, noted complacency in the leadership channels gave way for such abuse of power.  Minister Hunter who felt saddened by the situation stepped in to mitigate the circumstances. Mounting public out cry for Elgie’s inevitable resignation (which was slow but sure) was growing. The minister was called on to quell the tensions brewing between the parents, the community and all whom it concerned.

The minister requested two investigators go into the board to conduct reviews on trustee accountability and ways in which relations between parents and community can be repaired or  improved. The report would also look at whether trustees and the director of education are operating within their legislated duties, additionally, they would recommend ways to improve the working relationships at the board amongst trustees, between the board and the director of education, and between the director of education and senior staff, they would also review whether board members and the director of education are fulfilling their obligations.  The report which was due on April 7th. Written by Patrick Case, a law professor and former school trustee, also by Suzanne Herbert, a former deputy minister in Ontario.  Patrick Case and Suzanne Herbert conducted an urgent review of the York Region District School Board and provided their observations and recommendations regarding concerns around governance and equity, which have impacted public confidence in the board.

The troubling discoveries from the report elicited Minister Hunters’ twenty six directives in lieu of the findings. Its evident from the details that there exist a lack of accountability among school trustees surrounding the allegations of racism. It denounces inactivity by the board in their failure to respond expeditiously to the racist incidents which incited the investigations.

The sentiment of racism and discrimination is strong within the York District School Board. The directives by the ministers requires the board to immediately suspend all international travel, submit a plan for governance and equity training for all board members, establish the position of senior administrator responsible for equity, and conduct a performance appraisal of the Director of Education led by an external human resources professional all in an effort said the minister, to rebuild public confidence. The report also describes feelings of alienation, marginalization and discrimination expressed by many of the board’s students, parents, staff and members of the community. The board’s leadership – including the trustees and the Director – must take the actions necessary to address these concerns, said the minister.

In another statement issued by Minister Hunter, she has said; “Our government is committed to improving student achievement, ensuring equity, promoting well-being and enhancing public confidence in our publicly funded schools. This is critical to the success of students in Ontario.”

Article by: Maresa Cadienhead
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