Immediate action on improved anti-racism policy within DSBN
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District School Board of Niagara
191 Carlton Street
St. Catharines, Ontario L2R 7P4
December 5th, 2017
To whom it may concern,
I am writing this letter to call the DSBN to action on the issue of racial harassment and discrimination within the region that seems to be occurring to widespread effect with little to no consequences, follow-through or education at the administrative level. It has become clear to me after observing the last couple years of my children being educated in the region, and speaking to other parents of racially marginalized children (but especially black children) the issues children are facing in your academic centres are common and being perpetuated by administrators who are not aware enough. It is unclear to me if there are policies in place at the DSBN specifically to address racism, but if there are they are either not being practiced, or not nearly comprehensive enough. It is also clear to me there are federal and provincial rights entrenched within the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code protecting all residents from Racial Harassment and Discrimination, and therefore the DSBN has a legal responsibility to take action to ensure our young people are not having to endure at the hands of both the children perpetrating the harassment and the administrators when concerns are brought to their attention.
As I started drafting this letter, my son had been home for 3 days with a legitimate fever. I am however acutely aware that when he came home the previous Monday from attending Prince of Wales after an incident where he had reported his distress (otherwise known as race based stress) at continuous racial harassment by another child in the schoolyard to the school administrator, he had completely lost faith in the school and administration’s ability to provide him with a safe learning environment, and this continues to be a major factor in his feeling unwell. A boy in his class, who seems to be an example of many children in the region, continually uses the N word and other racially disparaging language. While my boys are VERY educated and good self-advocates, I still encouraged him to go to his principal, as this continuous harassment is not something he should have to endure. I felt comfortable asking this of him, as I had previously had a discussion with her myself earlier in the year and she encouraged this. Instead of addressing the harassment, she brought my son and this boy together as if it were a regular schoolyard conflict or disagreement (which is most certainly not suitable in this case). She did not interview the witnesses (something I have verified), or levy any consequences on the harasser, despite a supposed “zero tolerance” policy on bullying (aka harassment). This boy returned to the playground to remake statements as he knew he had got away with it.
I hear endless stories of little boys of colour receiving more severe consequences for the same or less serious behaviour than their Caucasian counterparts. I hear endless stories of racial harassment happening on the playground and in the classroom and of administrators doing nothing. I hear endless stories of these children not being heard and than their own behaviour declining as a well known response to feeling invalidated and further disempowered by lack of action. I hear about “special education” classrooms disproportionately full of black children. I am observing curriculum that causes race based stress and is not reflective of a 2017 standard of content in relationship to race. In the example of my 14-year-old son attending Eden, he came home with a letter informing me the selected reading for this year is “Huckleberry Finn”. Upon broaching the topic with the teacher, she informed me she was using this text to enlighten children about racism, to which I asked her: why that book? My son, as one of very few black children in his entire grade, does not need to learn racism via an outdated delivery. She responded to this by saying “but the other children do”. So even in relationship to racism the white children’s needs mattered more! I contacted advocates from other boards and brought Dr Leon Barrett and sat with Eden’s Principal, and the book has now been removed from the reading list. We have also now been presented a list of books that address the issues of race in literature in a way that is empowering vs causing race based stress.
In a region where standing city councilors do not think it is a serious error in judgement to attend Halloween parties in blackface costume, it is imperative that we provide all our students with a safe learning environment, which includes protecting them from the harassment of peers and from discrimination by school staff, and providing appropriate policy, education and consequences for those peers and staff to prevent the harassment and discrimination from occurring in the future. Please take steps to ensure that DSBN policy directly addresses the issue of racism in schools, so that racial harassment and racial discrimination can be addressed with the severity that they deserve. Failure to take action on this matter in a timely manner will result in a formal complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
c.c. Board Members/Trustees 2014-2018
Helping Black Students Succeed : http://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/metro-morning/segment/15087041
Racial harassment: know your rights (brochure), Ontario Human Rights Commission http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/racial-harassment-know-your-rights-brochure
Blackface photo haunts Strange’s political ambition, St-Catharines Standard, http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2017/12/01/blackface-photo-haunts-stranges-political-ambition
TDSB director commits to anti-racism training at Black Lives Matter walkout, Toronto Star, https://www.thestar.com/…/tdsb-director-commits-to-anti-rac
A template for developing an Anti-Harassment Policy, Canadian Human Rights Commission, https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/…/template-developing-anti-hara
Anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies, Ontario Human Rights Commission, http://www.ohrc.on.ca/…/5-anti-harassment-and-anti-discrimi
Guidelines for responding to racial incidents in child care, City of Toronto Children’s Services Division, https://www1.toronto.ca/…/childre…/files/pdf/anti_racism.pdf
A Better Way Forward: Ontario’s 3-Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan, Government of Ontario, https://www.ontario.ca/…/better-way-forward-ontarios-3-year
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