No more streaming for Black, African and Caribbean-Canadian students in HDSB

By Lincoln DePradine

Curtis Ennis Director of Education HDSB

The decision to end the streaming of students in Grade 9 is “one of the best things’’ to occur in the Ontario school system, according to veteran educator and administrator Curtis Ennis.

Ennis, director of education at Halton District School Board (HDSB), said eliminating streaming means there no longer will be “sifting and sorting’’ of students, many of them from the Black and Caribbean community.

“I think this is an incredible move forward,’’ said Jamaican-born Ennis. “It’s long overdue.’’

Ennis was speaking Tuesday during an online Black History Month discussion titled, “Progress Towards Equitable Education for Black Students and Families in HDSB’’. It was organized by the Canadian Caribbean Association of Halton (CCAH).

Ennis was joined, in leading the discussion, by Angela J. Carter, executive director of Roots Community Services, a charitable organization offering programs to members of the Black, African and Caribbean communities “to make positive changes in their lives’’; and by CCAH board member and parent advocate Saud Juman, whose activities focus on human rights, equity, inclusion and diversity in education.

Streaming involved students, when they begin high school, choosing to pursue either an “academic’’ track in core courses like math, science and English, or picking hands-on “applied’’ subjects.

Many parents and education advocates have criticized the practice as discriminatory, arguing that it disproportionately impacts racialized and low-income students, when it comes to graduation rates and the chance of going to a post-secondary institution.

A 2017 report, authored by York University professor Dr Carl James, found that Black teenagers in the Greater Toronto Area were being streamed into applied courses at significantly higher rates than other students.

“We want to make sure that every single child, irrespective of their background, their ethnicity, their faith, every child has an equal shot of succeeding,’’ Ontario education minister Stephen Lecce said in announcing the end to Grade 9 streaming. It will begin with students entering high school this September.

“Ontario was the only province in Canada that streamed kids into two different streams of learning – applied and academic,’’ said Lecce. “I believe we should not be the outlier.’’

Minister Karina Gould

Ennis, addressing Tuesday’s CCAH event, said he, as HDSB education director, as well as the board’s staff, welcome the destreaming of Grade 9 students.

“It’s something that I’m fully embracing and fully supporting,’’ said Ennis, a former Ontario ministry of education employee.

“I think it’s one of the best things that has happened in the last little while that is tangible, that is palpable, that I think is going to make a significant outcome and change to the future of Black students within Halton and across the province.’’

Many years of streaming, said Ennis, “robbed society of the brilliance and the creativity of all the individuals combined, because they did not get the same opportunities as everybody else’’.

Carter, agreeing with Ennis, described destreaming as a “fantastic’’ idea.

“We need a lot more of that,’’ Carter said. “The disproportionality, and the disparities in the education system, are revealing.’’

Juman, a businessman and co-chair of the Parent Involvement Committee for Halton District School Board, recalled growing up in Scarborough and having his first Black teacher while taking Grade 11 math.

“If I Imagine the future for my children, it would be one where they can see themselves modeled and reflected in teachers, administrators, support staff and resources, 12 months of the year,’’ he said.

“I would encourage parents to be more involved; you can – in whatever way you can, however much your time allows you to.’’

Canadian government minister Karina Gould, in closing remarks, expressed support for measures aimed at affording equal opportunities for all.

“I will always be an ally and will keep working to make sure that every student, every individual, has the same opportunities at success. I’m really excited to do this work with you,’’ said Gould, MP for Burlington and federal minister responsible for families, children and social development.

She said the Liberal government has taken several initiatives to support Canadian youth and address anti-Black racism.

“In the last two years alone, we have committed close to $100 million to Canada’s anti-racism strategy,’’ said Gould.

“We know that systemic anti-Black racism is an unacceptable reality within our society, and we know that Black Canadians face many systemic barriers. These inequalities and inequities have been exacerbated by the pandemic.’’