The PDSB prelim anti-racism report is in. Now what, Premier Ford?

Premier Doug Ford

Last November, the minister of education Stephen Lecce appointed a team to review the state affairs at the Peel District School Board (PDSB). “The review is intended to address concerns about equity, including anti-Black racism, and serious issues related to governance, leadership and human resources practices in the board”, according to the news release announcing the review.

The Peel Board has seen many challenges over the past few years, particularly dealing with racism. In an attempt to respond to some of those charges, especially as it affects Black male students, the Board, in conjunction and consultation with the Peel community developed an action plan, “We Rise Together”, to better the situation for Black male students.

It was a rocky beginning for the review, which was prompted largely by accusations of racism, and specifically anti-Black racism, by people from whom one expects better. The review team itself did not include any member of the Black community. After much concern and pressure were exerted by the Peel community, one Black person, Shawn Richard was added.The fact that Patrick Case, the assistant deputy minister would be overseeing the review was not enough.

When the former minister of education, Mitzie Hunter ordered a review of the York Regional District School Board (YRDSB) which reported in 2017, the circumstances were somewhat different. The thrust of that review was about the way things were being handled by senior executives and the board itself. One of the outcomes was the removal of the director of education. But there were other issues including charges of anti-Black racism. One member of the board in fact made a racist remark against a Black parent. Case was one of the reviewers of the York Regional District School Board.

The Peel reviewers, late last month, submitted what they are calling an interim report. It was a letter to the minister stating what they have done so far and how they have gone about it. “We have consistently heard painful accounts of traumatic experiences in schools and school communities that speak systemic and historical disparities between and across racial, ethnic and cultural groups with respect to access to programming…” In other words, they heard a lot about racism and discrimination, marginalization and lack of respect.

Without question, by the end of the review process, the reviewers will have heard a lot more about these “shortcomings.” And they will put it together in a nice little package for the minister, who in turn will thank them, make some statement about getting to the heart of the matter and turning this matter around.

To add a bit more perspective, the statement from the premier in recognition of Black History Month does not use the term “anti-Black racism”. “Black History Month also offers an opportunity to heal wounds and shine a light on the injustices committed against the Black community”, the statement reads.

So, there is some recognition that Black people have suffered injustices. Yet, this is the same premier and government which has not only sidelined the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate (OARD) but is dismantling it. It closely follows the path that Mike Harris, a Doug Ford predecessor, took so many years ago, dismantling the Ontario Anti-Racism Secretariat (OARS) and eliminating any references to “racism”.

But we will give credit where credit is due. In the news release of the announcement of the review, “anti-Black racism” was used as in “The review is intended to address concerns about equity, including anti-Black racism…”

Perhaps we will try to be optimistic here that the Ford government will do something positive once the review is completed.