Petitions call for PDSB director to resign, demand unions finally respond to anti-Black racism; OSSTF breaks silence
(Clarification: The story originally stated in a sentence that Trustee Robert Crocker said the province's directives were "political". He only ever referred to the destreaming directive as "political", which was reflected in other parts of the article.)
Parent advocate Kola Iluyomade has been in battle with the Peel District School Board for years, ever since his son was called a monkey by another student in middle school.
Now, years later at 15, Iluyomade says his son is still emotionally impacted by his experience in PDSB. The struggle was the spark that led Iluyomade to fight back against anti-Black racism and become a part of various parent advocacy groups in the region, such as Advocacy Peel and Black Parents of Peel.
Recent petitions online have gained more attention alongside the protests happening throughout North America (and the world) condemning racism and police brutality against Black citizens.
The first locally launched petition is in response to a recent review that the Ministry of Education conducted late last year and early in 2020. The ministry laid out 27 binding requirements the board has to implement following the review. The damning report found a culture of anti-Black racism had poisoned the institution and had spilled out for decades into many aspects of its decision making, harming racialized students.
Those aligned with the advocacy groups in Peel believe the directives are not enough to stop the trauma and they are demanding Director of Education Peter Joshua, members of the PDSB board of trustees, including the chair and vice chair, step down.
Joshua, who has been under fire for more than a year for his failure to confront systemic discrimination, told The Pointer this week that he and the board members are aware of the petition and understand the “very real and serious concerns that drove [those] to sign the petition.”
Calls for PDSB Director Peter Joshua to resign are growing louder
He said the school board has still not properly addressed anti-Black racism but that the work it continues to do is real. To date the board has submitted a proposed timeline for a secondary school destreaming pilot (to stop removing Black and other visible minority students from regular educational pathways in favour of ones that harm their future prospects) for the 2021-22 school year, ceased the practice of informal school suspensions including any students in kindergarten to grade 3 and submitted its first progress report to the Annual Equity Accountability Report Card.
The ministry, in a tersely worded letter from Assistant Deputy Minister Patrick Case, informed PDSB that its destreaming plan fell far short of expectations and that other actions either did not address the directives or are not being carried out according to deadlines set by the province. The damning letter last month raised more questions about whether the board understands the harm it continues to do to racialized students, particularly those who are Black, and the need to stop as soon as possible.
“Even after the minister released directives they [Joshua and many other decision makers] are still defiant — they are defiant arguing against his directives,” said Iluyomade who actively participates in all board meetings.
Trustee Robert Crocker, at the last board meeting, said that the destreaming directive from the ministry is “political, not educational,” and that he does not support it. Months after the directives from the ministry emphasized the elimination of streaming, several white members of the board voiced their support for it, despite all the evidence the province presented in its review showing how bias and discrimination led to racialized students being harmed while white students often benefit from streaming.
PDSB Trustee Robert Crocker said the move to end streaming is "political"
Before being elected by the public as a trustee, Crocker was the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation district president for Peel, an executive position with the union.
The evidence from the ministry’s investigation, which was released in its March report, showed Black students in the PDSB are disproportionately removed from the normal education curriculum (academic) and placed in applied pathways, often because white educators have biases against them. This unfairly denies them of academic opportunities and is incredibly harmful to their future educational success, the review found.
Now, the board is being forced to end streaming.
“I warn my trustee colleagues the ideology driving this is political, not educational,” Crocker said at the May 28 meeting.
He then claimed the bar will “be set lower” by the move and that students behave badly in class because work is too difficult and they disengage.
Trustee Kathy McDonald challenged him, stating that many students in streamed pathways disengage because the work is not challenging enough and she has witnessed this in many Black pupils. She pointed out that if Black and other racialized students were given a fair opportunity, for example, to join gifted streams, which are over-represented by white students, they would not only engage, their true potential could be reached.
Lawyer Alex Battick tweeted that students feel intimidated to speak out against systemic racism within the board
Iluyomade believes the PDSB is “ground zero” for anti-Black racism and education in Canada. The issue, he said, with the directives is the board, the root of the problem, has been tasked to find solutions to problems it created, while many trustees refuse to admit that their own behaviour continues to do harm.
They are the problem, he said.
“Until there are consequences around anti-Black racism nothing is going to change.”
The seven other demands in the petition call for an equity plan made by the Associate Director of Instruction and Equity, the removal of Youth Ed and Student Resource Officer programs and that letters of warnings sent to parent advocates Idris Orughu and Iluyomade himself, be rescinded.
Advocates at a recent PDSB meeting demanded the board take real action to stop anti-Black racism
Another petition was created by a group of teachers that is asking the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) to do more for racialized students within PDSB.
Some of the demands include: anti-Black racism training for all union executive members; recruiting an anti-Black racism advisory council; and to formally endorse the 27 directives of the ministry review.
The teachers are looking for a stronger statement against what has been happening in their school board and want meaningful work to be done and not just boxes checked by the board of trustees.
As voices grew stronger and the petition spread rapidly across social media while anger over the police killing of George Floyd intensified, the OSSTF responded late Tuesday, breaking its silence, to the teachers and parent groups in Peel.
In a statement obtained by The Pointer, the OSSTF said, “we are sorry for the hurt that our public silence has caused; we acknowledge that this statement should have come long ago.”
In the statement the OSSTF says it will be holding PDSB accountable and will ensure the board addresses all the directives from the ministry’s review. The OSSTF also made commitments to address and combat anti-Black racism in response to the petition, including the adoption of anti-Black racism training for union executives.
The union has also publicly committed to remove barriers for Black and other racialized members that prevent them from getting into leadership positions. Like the board’s senior ranks, the OSSTF executive is overwhelmingly white, a reflection of a predominantly white membership that seems to lock out other visible minority members who have not been able to enter decision making roles with their own union. In a board such as the PDSB, whose student body is almost 84 percent non-white, this means union policies and decisions often do not reflect the goals of students and racialized educators.
The OSSTF, in its statement, also committed to advocacy and direct involvement to ensure the ministry’s directives are properly followed.
It also acknowledged the Islamophobic remarks made by Central Peel Secondary School Principal Julie DeMaeyer that came to light last week when the board publicly announced she had been suspended and was being investigated for her remarks.
The timing of the union’s action has raised questions about why it took a continent-wide movement for it to act, when the review by the ministry was handed down in March, suggesting that only because of mounting public pressure has the OSSTF chosen to finally show its support. Critics have told The Pointer that education unions have for decades fallen far short of actually representing the diverse needs of students and educators in regions such as Peel.
As of Wednesday about 10,000 people had signed the two petitions collectively. Melissa Theodore who lives in Peel and is active in the Peel Advocacy group is hoping for change, soon.
“It’s the same story over and over and over again, and it’s about time to change it,” she said.
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