Peel District School Board report on systemic racism reveals “painful accounts of traumatic experiences”

By Staff Reporter

Peel District School Board

Last November, the Ontario Government announced that the Peel District School Board (PDSB) was under review following racism and human rights complaints.

The review comes after PDSB trustee Will Davies’ used the word ‘McCriminal’ to describe McCrimmon Middle School in Brampton, sparking accusations of anti-Black racism. More recently, The Toronto Star revealed that Poleen Grewal, the associate director of instruction and equity with the PDSB, filed a complaint against the board and its director of education with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. She is accused them of racism, harassment and diminishing her work while failing to deal with anti-Black racism in schools.

The interim report that followed revealed, in the Board’s words, “painful accounts of traumatic experiences in schools and school communities that speak to systemic and historical disparities between and across racial, ethnic and cultural groups.”

The report said their findings came after receiving over 350 requests for interviews and written submissions. They conducted over 30 interviews with individuals and groups, for a total of 50 from locations in Peel Region and Toronto.

When the review was announced, representatives of the Black community were particularly concerned about the process. They felt that a more comprehensive approach “will reveal the problematic structural dynamics within the PDSB.”

Earlier there were concerns that the review panel was not representative of the diverse communities that make up Peel Region. Under fire, Education Minister Stephen Lecce later announced that Shawn Richards, a practicing lawyer and former president of the Canadian Black Lawyers Association, was added to the panel.

Following the release of the interim report, Lecce said, “I believe students and families deserve better… It is my hope that the final report will build momentum for the transformational change racialized families are seeking, after a period of inaction.”

The PDSB is the second-largest English-speaking public school board in Ontario, serving over 155,000 students in 257 schools, and represents students from over 160 ethnic and cultural backgrounds – South Asian (45.3 per cent), White (16.8 per cent), Black (10.2 per cent), Middle Eastern (5.6 per cent), East Asian (5.4 per cent) and multiple racial backgrounds (6.7).

According to PDSB chair Brad MacDonald, “We remain committed to working with the Ministry of Education’s reviewers and are thankful that so many have come forward to share their experiences during this process. We recognize that the voices of students, staff, families and community members are important in helping us to eliminate anti-Black racism, and dismantle systemic barriers to academic success and well-being that exist within our system.” 

“We share the community’s desire to have this review lead to transformative approaches and good governance to addressing gaps in both the educational and employment outcomes at the Peel District School Board, in particular for Black and racialized students and staff”