Ministry of Education ‘concerned’ as PDSB effectively fails three anti-racism directives
The Ministry of Education has written to Peel District School Board, admonishing it for failing to properly fulfill at least three of the mandatory directives handed down by the province following a disturbing investigation that found systemic anti-Black racism and other discriminatory behaviour within the board.
In March, Education Minister Stephen Lecce laid out 27 binding requirements the board had to implement, following the provincial probe into discrimination at PSDB. The damning report found a culture of anti-Black racism permeated the institution and curled its tentacles into many aspects of its decision making, harming racialized students.
To rectify the longstanding issues, Director of Education Peter Joshua — particularly damaged by the report — and the board of trustees were instructed to mend their broken relationship with the Black community. The Minister's directives demand a number of actions ranging from a fulsome apology through to implementing anti-racism and bias awareness training throughout the organization.
In a letter to PDSB this week, Patrick Case, Assistant Deputy Minister, said Minister Lecce was “concerned” by some of the board’s inaction.
PDSB Chair Brad MacDonald
In a brief opening, Case thanked Chair Brad MacDonald for successfully completing Directives 2, 3, 5, 13 and 25. He said the Ministry considered them “to be complete.”
By contrast, Directives 1, 16 and 19 have effectively been failed. The board’s request for an extension on two other directives was also criticized.
Which Directives did the letter mention? (Click here for full list of Directives):
Directive 01: Unsatisfied
Directive 02: Complete
Directive 03: Complete
Directive 04: Request for extension “concerning”
Directive 05: Complete
Directive 06: Submitted
Directive 07: Submitted
Directive 13: Complete
Directive 16: Unsatisfied
Directive 19: Unsatisfied
Directive 23: Request for extension “concerning”
Directive 25: Complete
In mid-April Trustees Kathy McDonald and Nokha Dakroub withdrew from mediation with their fellow board members and PDSB’s directors. The pair, who have spoken out against the board’s inaction, said they did not see the point in mediating with trustees and staff they felt were going through the motions instead of responsibly addressing the issue of anti-Black racism.
Though reporting in the media highlighted the further breakdown within the board while both trustees informed Lecce they were not taking part in the key directive to mediate a process for rehabilitation, for weeks, Chair MacDonald and Joshua stubbornly maintained they were successfully completing the Ministry’s requirement to get all members working around the table for a common goal, to ensure students would no longer be harmed by the PDSB’s alarming behaviour.
Trustees Kathy McDonald and Nokha Dakroub have been pushing for sweeping changes since last year
As recently as the May 13 board meeting, MacDonald insisted mediation was continuing. He even said the process was nearing completion in a verbal update at the meeting.
“Since our last meeting on April 29, the mediation was started with an independent mediator,” MacDonald said. “Interviews with trustees and [the] directors office have been completed. The interim report will be submitted on May 14.”
Asked by The Pointer at the time how this was possible without the two trustees who have been most critical and whose advocacy led to the provincial review in the first place, MacDonald referred to the mediation report that was due to be submitted. He said it would hold the answers. Pressed further, PDSB said the process was confidential and that “no one, other than the two trustees, would know that information.”
Case’s terse letter to PDSB raises more questions about the board’s commitment to right the wrongs that it apologized for, admitting it had caused “harm” to visible minority students, particularly those who are Black.
“The Minister was formally advised by two members of the Board that they have withdrawn their agreement to participate in mediation,” the letter reads. Case then added this was “of concern to the Minister” and their treatment was a subject of the ministry’s recent investigation into PDSB.
Arleen Huggins, appointed by Lecce at the end of April to investigate the issue, submitted her report to the Ministry of Education on May 18. A spokesperson for the province was unable to give an exact date for the report’s release, saying it was currently being translated to get it ready for public consumption.
Chair MacDonald told The Pointer he was “waiting to hear” from the Ministry regarding next steps.
During the recent meeting when MacDonald asserted mediation was almost complete, the board submitted its anti-racism policy (Directive 16). Debate took place around the board’s claim that a previous summary of an event was actually anti-Black racism training, as Kathy McDonald and Dakroub questioned the assertion, which suggested the board had been making efforts to address the problem, before an amended plan was approved and submitted to the Ministry.
Case and Lecce found that plan to be lacking.
In his letter, Case said the board had submitted a plan for community engagement by its deadline. That plan, he said, did not sufficiently deal with the report’s observations about marginalized voices in Peel.
“The plan should have set out how community voices will be solicited, included and centred in the design of the policy,” Case wrote. He then confronted the board’s contention that a required community consultation might not be completed by September 30 due to the ongoing pandemic, instructing that the board should “work with its various communities to determine how they can best engage in the current circumstances, and in accordance with direction from public health officials.”
In short, PDSB’s failure to gather and listen to community voices was again on display. It is that failure to listen and reflect on the evidence the community has presented that prompted the province to review the board in November 2019, a failure that was highlighted by the review and a failure that has now been raised by the Ministry of Education again.
Directive 19, also effectively failed by the board, related to destreaming in grades 9 and 10, something identified by the province’s report as key to the process to remove Black students from educational pathways that greatly limit their future opportunities. In one single, damning sentence, Case simply summed up the province’s opinion of PDSB’s efforts.
“The Minister is not satisfied with the board’s submission.”
Among its failings, PDSB’s proposal “does not adequately address” how parents, students, teachers or school leaders would engage with the piloting of the process. The board’s plan also does not adequately propose a way to learn from other school boards in Ontario that have discontinued damaging streaming practices.
“Given the urgency of the issues identified by the Review, the Board should give consideration to implementing the pilot as soon as possible,” Case stated. “Many grade 9 and 10 students will be starting the target courses in January 2021, and the opportunity to intervene as soon as possible in the trajectory of these students should be considered.”
Once again, the Ministry of Education’s issue with PDSB’s approach appears to be that it is not listening to those affected and acting responsibly to prevent further damage, which is often irreversible, to students. The board has taken the same approach as before, despite every sign its current culture is not just broken, but actively harming many students.
PDSB Director Peter Joshua has been the focus of widespread criticism over his failed leadership
Asked by The Pointer what steps PDSB would take to rectify its failed directives, Peter Joshua said that “revisions to submissions for directives 16 and 19 will be shared later this week.”
Recently, the board also wrote to the Ministry requesting an extension for Directive 4 (to hire an additional integrity commissioner) and Directive 23 (to retain an expert to conduct a review of Joshua’s office and his failure to address the widespread issues, along with examining central Board functions). Unimpressed by the request, in the face of missed deadlines, Case said that it is “of concern to the Minister that these operational deliverables would pose [a] challenge.”
Board Chair Brad MacDonald and Director Joshua are expected to address the issues at PDSB’s virtual public meeting later today, May 26.
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