Queen’s Park sending in investigator to ‘examine’ PDSB after board fails to move forward on directives to end anti-Black discrimination
One of the world’s most diverse school systems is failing many of its visible minority students and the province’s top education official is now taking severe action to fix problems the Peel District School Board has ignored for decades.
On Tuesday, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced the stunning news – a provincially appointed investigator is being sent into the PDSB to find out why the board is once again facing problems, after Lecce outlined 27 directives that have to be implemented to create transformative change within a troubled organization.
Those instructions came last month, after the minister launched a probe late last year into widespread allegations of anti-Black racism and other systemic discrimination that have plagued the board for decades.
But after the scathing review confirmed the presence of systemic racism within the board, and after the PDSB even admitted it, following the initial probe, mediation to implement the 27 directives fell apart over the past week.
Lecce warned that he would not put up with “continued inaction” which has caused students harm for years. He has now made the unprecedented move to send in an independent investigator.
"We expect our school leaders – trustees, senior administration, and educators – to ensure all students are learning in safe and inclusive classrooms," Lecce said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. "This is why effective, transparent, and accountable school board governance is essential to the success and well-being of students in Ontario's publicly funded schools."
He has appointed Arleen Huggins to investigate the PDSB's compliance with the minister's “binding Directions to the Board issued on March 13, 2020.” The order followed a months long probe into the allegations of widespread discrimination that Lecce launched late in 2019, which revealed systemic problems and shocking accounts of widespread discrimination.
In a board serving a student body that is almost 85 percent non-white, about 75 percent of the teaching and administrative staff, including principals and vice principals, is white. This isn’t necessarily an issue, but the review, handled by a three-person panel appointed by the ministry, found that the dynamic of the board stood in the way of an open, respectful and diverse learning culture. It has created the opposite.
When the 27 mandated directives were handed to the PDSB on March 13, Lecce “provided clear direction with specific timelines and deliverables to address systemic discrimination, particularly anti-Black racism, as well as dysfunctional governance, leadership and human resources practices within the PDSB,” the statement reads.
The board has been paralyzed for months after a series of racially charged incidents. It became clear that leadership had lost control.
The board recently issued an official apology for the “hurt and harm” it had caused the Black community, admitting there is an issue of “systemic racism” within the board, following the release of the province’s review.
“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 April 15, stated.
However, when the board of trustees met on the same day to move forward on the measures ordered by the ministry, problems began almost immediately.
With a clear indication that the board had no intention of working cooperatively to implement the province’s binding directives, two trustees pulled out of the mediation process and called for the province to step in, again.
“The process laid out for the mediation; I have no problem with it,” Kathy McDonald said, in a phone interview with The Pointer last week. “My issue is because of the constant … hostility [towards me, which] has just exponentially increased.”
Trustees Kathy McDonald, left, and Nokha Dakroub
Nokha Dakroub told The Pointer on Sunday she has lost confidence after the board displayed an unwillingness to properly address her expectations around the provincial directives.
“I can’t say they’re not interested in mediating and I can’t speak for them, but I can say I feel that they’re not interested in anything I have to say, that’s for sure,” she told The Pointer. “That’s how I feel: I don't see mediation working. It’s that simple.”
The measures the board was ordered to implement 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.
Huggins is a lawyer who for three decades has practiced employment law, human rights law, workplace harassment and discrimination investigations and commercial litigation.
The province’s release states, “She is a former President of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers and a Former Chair of both the Canadian Bar Association Standing Committee on Equity and the Ontario Bar Association Equal Opportunity Committee. Ms. Huggins was also on the founding Board of the African Canadian Legal Clinic and has served on the Doctors Without Borders Human Resources Committee and the federal Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee (JAAC) for the GTA.”
After conducting her investigation of the board, she will deliver a report to the ministry on or before May 18.
The ministry described its stunning move Tuesday as necessary “to ensuring PDSB complies with the Minister's binding Directions so that parents, students and the community get the positive change that they need and deserve.”
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