PDSB ‘truly sorry’ for anti-Black behaviour by the board
Peel District School Board (PDSB) has issued an official apology for the “hurt and harm” it has caused the Black community, admitting there is an issue of “systemic racism” within the board. The apology follows the release of a damning provincial report into institutional discrimination within the board and a series of incidents highlighting mistrust between Black parents and a predominantly white board and teaching staff.
“Over the past several months, during our execution of duties and stated roles as trustees of Peel District School Board, debates, discussions and conversations have taken place, and decisions made which have caused hurt and harm for members of the Black community, both those who live in Peel and others who live outside of Peel. For this, the Board is truly sorry,” the apology, issued Thursday, states.
PDSB Trustee Kathy McDonald has been advocating for change within the board
“All students, community members and employees of Peel District School Board deserve a safe and caring environment to learn and work. Moving forward, the Board will ensure that Trustees follow the Code of Conduct that clearly outlines the obligation to the Human Rights Code.”
The apology comes after a Wednesday night meeting where Trustee Kathy McDonald, a critic of PDSB’s past handling of the issue, struggled to raise the matter of anti-Black racism. McDonald tweeted her frustration over a continued lack of interest in the issue by some board members. “Can’t ask about specific questions. Can’t ask about general questions. I guess you can’t ask about anti-Black racism. #EnoughIsEnough,” she posted.
The tweet reflects concerns McDonald has shared in the past. “It’s the story of my life at that board,” she previously told The Pointer. “I am the one who’s lying. This is typical of the Black experience. You always have to prove yourself above and beyond anybody else.”
The issue of anti-Black racism has been persistent within PDSB, with several high profile recent examples. In 2019, Trustee Will Davies was the centre of a controversy after labelling McCrimmon Middle School in Brampton, with a large racialized student population, ‘McCriminal’. In October, he apologized for the comment, but relations between parents and the board did not improve.
A particularly upsetting incident for the community was the handcuffing of a six-year-old Mississauga student, who was shackled face down on her stomach with her hands behind her back after her school staff called police in response to unruly behaviour.
A ruling on the incident by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario concluded the conduct of two uniformed police officers in dealing with a violently behaving child, who is Black, was in part motivated by her race.
PDSB also called the Peel Regional Police to its Mississauga headquarters to remove Black parents from the premises in February, after they became involved in a disagreement with some board members while they tried to advocate for students. Some parents were later served with trespass notices, banning them from attending future meetings of the board.
The board’s apology admits there is “systemic racism” within the PDSB. It commits trustees to undergo anti-bias awareness training, saying elected board members will “examine our individual biases.”
PDSB Trustee Will Davies called a Brampton school 'McCriminal'
In March, in the same week trespass letters were sent, Black parents took part in another protest and deputation at PDSB.
“The trust is quite broken between the board and the Black community, given that the board has been handing over our children to the police and has been criminalizing our children by calling the police. And now you are criminalizing parents who are concerned about how their children are being treated,” Dr. Tope Adefarakan said in a presentation to PDSB.
“I think it fell on deaf ears,” she said of her requests, comments and pleas. “I think they’re resisting and managing [the situation]... I think if there was any remorse or any sincerity in terms of really taking a hard look at how to do things differently and listening, it would have shown itself, but it didn’t.”
Shortly before issuing its apology, PDSB also shared a note explaining the steps it was taking during the COVID-19 lockdown to address the Ministry of Education’s review and directives.
The review, released last month, found officials to be “paralyzed by inaction” and listed a harrowing collection of stories documenting the systemic issues within PDSB. The report codified what parents have been telling the board for years.
PDSB has promised the report’s 27 directives would be followed and updates shared on its website.
The directives include:
Retain an independent mediator or conflict resolution expert to resolve dysfunction between the board, directors and individual board members
Review committees to ensure racial diversity of board members is represented at the committee level
Develop and implement an Annual Equity Accountability Report Card to be included in the Director of Education’s annual report
Establish a student advisory body representative of the demographics and intersectionalities of the Board’s student body
Retain an external expert to conduct a comprehensive review of the Director’s Office and central Board functions and make recommendations to the Board to establish clear roles and accountabilities for all major portfolios
Review the recruitment process to determine whether or not otherwise qualified racialized candidates are being screened out
Conduct a proper evaluation of Education Director Peter Joshua including his performance on the equity and diversity file (he has not had a performance review conducted since becoming head of the board).
The full list and additional details can be viewed here.
Joshua has been a lightning rod since problems between the board and the Black community began. An alarming complaint was filed last year to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario by the PDSB’s head of equity and diversity, Poleen Grewal, who alleges Joshua and the Board tried to marginalize her and then retaliated against her for trying to address systemic problems with anti-Black discrimination.
PDSB Director of Education Peter Joshua
The province’s findings seem to support the allegations of anti-Black bias.
"The Ministry consultation surfaced serious and deeply concerning accounts of traumatic experiences, especially for members of Peel's Black community, and other racialized and marginalized communities," PDSB Chair Brad MacDonald said in the statement released Thursday. "As the elected chair, I take responsibility for what happened, and for what will happen next. On behalf of the board, I want to apologize again for the trauma and hurt staff, students, families and community members have experienced. We have much to do to continue the remedial work necessary to seek reconciliation so that we can eliminate anti-Black racism, uproot system[ic] discrimination and regain trust to improve outcomes for students and staff."
A few hours before the board’s apology, the group Advocacy Peel highlighted a petition with more than 500 signatures accusing the board of attempting to “deny, deflect and dismiss” the evidence found within the provincial review.
“Rather than engaging in a productive dialogue with parents, the PDSB continues to escalate the situation by denying the extent of the problem, dismissing parents and community members who raise legitimate concerns and deflecting from PDSB behaviours and shifting the blame onto others,” the group said in a media release.
The board's first progress report to the Minister of Education is due by June 1, 2020.
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