Four years after apologizing for systemic discrimination, PDSB still suspending & expelling Black & Indigenous students at disturbing rates
Black and Indigenous students at the Peel District School Board are two times as likely to face suspension and expulsion, compared to their overall representation in the student body.
A progress report that is part of the provincial directives handed down by the Ministry of Education after it had to take over governance of PDSB due to systemic anti-Black racism and other forms of discrimination reveals Black students are being suspended at the same rate as in the 2019-2020 academic year, when the Province issued its 27 binding directives to eradicate systemic discrimination within the PDSB.
“The Ontario Anti-Racism Data Standards defines a racial disproportionality Index as ‘a measure of a racial group’s overrepresentation or underrepresentation in a program, service, or function relative to the group’s representation in the reference population’”, the report explains. “In the February 2023 report, a proposed threshold to identify racial disproportionalities in suspensions and expulsions of 1.5 was established.” Any number above 1.5 (meaning a particular group is overrepresented by 50 percent, compared to the overall number of students who identify as part of that group) shows expulsions and suspensions are being handed out disproportionally.
“Disproportionalities continue to exist in PDSB,” the report, which was brought to the PDSB’s board meeting on January 31, highlights. It provides an analysis using the criteria described above. While disproportionalities decreased for Indigenous students from 2.9 to 2.2 for the fall of 2023, for Black students, the disproportionality decreased from 2.2 to 2.0 since last school year, and rose up to 2.2 again in the fall of 2023, making both groups 2.2 times more likely to be suspended or expelled compared to their overall representation in the board.
Table depicting PDSB’s suspension and expulsion disproportionalities in the fall of 2023. The highest disproportionalities, 2.2, are among First Nation, Métis and Inuit students and African, Black & Afro-Caribbean students.
The school board is continuing to monitor its progress regarding some of its 27 provincially mandated directives, which were submitted to the Ministry of Education at the end of the 2022-2023 school year, according to the 2022-23 Director’s Annual Report. The PDSB was handed the directives in March of 2020, forcing the school board to eradicate systemic discrimination and racist anti-Black practices that did harm to students and families for decades.
“As per Ministry requirements, there are a total of four by-monthly reports required to the board as per directive 22,” Harjit Aujla, Associate Director, School Improvement and Equity, said at the board meeting. “This report serves as the formal second update report on D. 22, building on the November 22, 2023 report.” He shared that this second report “contains PDSB’s progress towards eliminating racial disparities in suspensions, expulsions and exclusions,” and that the accomplishment of ongoing work through directive 21 “will allow the PDSB to measure impacts on racial disparities in suspensions and expulsion data, and monitor progress towards the elimination of racial disparities.”
“Following the release of the Ministry of Education Review of the Peel District School Board (PDSB) in March 2020 (Chadha et al., 2020), the PDSB has taken significant steps to ensure that the well documented and historical inequities in student achievement and experiences are eliminated,” the report detailed. “The PDSB has interrogated its systems and structures to dismantle systemic discrimination and in particular manifestations of anti-Black racism.”
The Ministry’s review pulled together evidence after advocates and families of Black students had voiced concerns over their treatment for decades. Black students, parents and members of the PDSB shared with the reviewers that “some teachers use any excuse to exclude Black students from the classroom and some principals use any excuse to suspend Black students from schools.” These included suspensions for wearing hoodies, hoop earrings and doo rags, while other students who did the same faced no such discipline. The Province reviewed extensive disciplinary records and highlighted discriminatory patterns made obvious by the data.
“Black students described an arbitrary disciplinary system that sought them out,” and there were repeated reports of “Black students being suspended from school, some as early as junior kindergarten”.
The review included data that revealed “the PDSB is suspending Black secondary schools students at a ratio of 2.2,” with Black students only making up 10.2 percent of the secondary school population, but around 22.5 percent “of students receiving suspensions.”
The latest Directive 22 progress report shows little improvement has been achieved since the Province intervened over four years ago, with Black students at PDSB having the same disproportionalities in suspension and expulsion data as they did in 2019-2020.
Graphs depicting racial disproportionalities in suspensions and expulsions from 2018-2019 school year to 2022-2023 for First Nation, Métis and Inuit students and African, Black & Afro-Caribbean students. The rate from the most recent academic year for First Nation, Métis and Inuit students is the same as it was in 2020-21, and for African, Black & Afro-Caribbean students it is the same as the 2019-2020 academic year.
The Ministry’s 2020 Review found that the vast majority of suspensions at PDSB secondary schools between 2013 and 2019, 78 percent, “did not fit the parameters of the Ministry of Education’s definitions” of the specific actions that would trigger a suspension. It found that roughly 40 percent of the school board’s suspensions of elementary students also did not fit the Ministry’s definition of a suspendable action, a trend that was “worrisome” and indicative of a need for the PDSB to “undertake an examination, and provide the community with greater elucidation, of the reasons and criteria that trigger the discretionary use of ‘other’ Suspensions.”
“Data from the PDSB clearly shows that Black youth, especially males, are disproportionally represented in suspension, expulsions, exclusions and streaming,” the review found. “We heard from students, parents and teachers that streaming, marginalizing and removing students from learning environments have detrimental effects on their sense of self and Belonging.”
The lack of progress on eradicating bias and discrimination in suspensions and expulsions is not surprising, as resistance to the provincial directives once again came to light this past summer. The Pointer obtained a report that highlighted a disturbing survey of PDSB employees, about their own experiences with discrimination at the board.
Less than two years ago, a 2022 Workforce Census, part of the mandated provincial directives, completed by Turner Consulting Group, revealed many employees refused to participate in the examination of progress on the ministry’s orders, some tried to undermine the survey by completing it more than once, in an attempt to skew results, and some “don’t see a connection between workplace diversity and the success of students.”
The employee Census was part of an Employment Systems Review (ESR) demanded by the directives and revealed a surprising lack of progress on diversity and equity initiatives within the board, despite some efforts that began a decade earlier, when the PDSB could no longer ignore the problems in an education system whose staff were overwhelmingly white and whose students were overwhelmingly non-white (recent statistics showed about 84 percent of the board’s students belonged to a visible minority group).
The ESR report highlighted a significant lack of workplace diversity, equity and inclusion infrastructure at the PDSB. There were employees who “expressed considerable resistance to equity, diversity, and inclusion work—employees who, regardless of PDSB’s approach, would likely not change their perspectives.”
Tim Vining with Advocacy Peel, who has a background in employment equity work, told The Pointer in the summer, when the survey report was obtained, that disparities identified between racialized staff and students are “profound” and “there's going to be a lot of work that we need to do in order to achieve equity so there’s representation of the students among the faculty and among the leadership.”
The representation he spoke of, so Black students would not have to be subjected to the biases of white teachers who target them for suspension and expulsion disproportionally, needs to be turned around. Currently, students do not see themselves in the teaching and administrative ranks of the PDSB.
“This is core to the educational experience of the student that we change those numbers so that the faculty, and all of staff, but especially the faculty who they sit in the classroom with each day, that they actually reflect their experiences. That is crucial,” he said.
The Province’s disturbing review, which led to the 27 directives and the ministry’s temporary takeover of governance at PDSB, highlighted the unfair treatment of Black students who were suspended or expelled due to the biases of white teachers, while white students who behaved similarly received no such punishment.
In response to the overrepresentation of white staff and underrepresentation of racialized staff revealed in the Workforce Census, Vining said he has heard from racialized students about the effects these disparities can have on the student body.
“I have spoken to students, Black students, who told me that they went through the entire system and never had a Black teacher. I don't think you will find one white student who's never had a white teacher.”
Under the provincial directives, the PDSB is obligated to continue reporting its progress on eradicating discrimination from its practices around student suspensions and expulsions.
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