Parents of Black children take matters into their own hands, launching Ontario school racism reporting tool

A group of Black parents have taken the problem of anti-Black racism in Ontario schools into their own hands, launching an anonymous racism reporting tool for educators and school staff, saying they can no longer wait for school boards to act.

At a virtual news conference Tuesday, mothers with the group Parents of Black Children (POBC) announced its school racism reporting tool, with a plan to release aggregated data on a quarterly basis. The move is a response to what they say is a lack of accountability at Ontario boards and inaction on the part of province to institute random equity audits to properly gauge the scale of anti-Black racism in schools.

“Despite years of reports, committees and recommendations, school boards are saying that they are unable to properly track incidents of anti-Black racism. This is unacceptable so we are going to do it for them,” mother-of-two Kearie Daniel, a founding member of the group, said.

Parents who advocate for change often find they are told to prove that racism is happening. But without proper reporting tools, sound data simply doesn’t exist, she said, adding educators are often reluctant to report about such incidents, fearing reprisals, lack of promotion, sabotage or lack of support from their administrators.

That, she said, allows school boards “to feign innocence and do nothing more to fight against anti-Black racism than to put nice-sounding statements on their websites or maybe hold a training or two.”

‘I don’t forget those stories’

On Tuesday alone, another one of the group’s cofounders, Charline Grant, said she had heard from four families with stories of anti-Black racism in schools.

“I don’t forget those stories. I don’t forget those names. They stay with me,” said Grant. “I see myself, I see my children in those phone calls and those intakes that come in.” 

Policies and procedure can go out the door and things can happen very quickly when governments are motivated to do it — when other lives are in danger.– Charline Grant

Grant herself experienced anti-Black racism firsthand when a York Region school board trustee was overheard calling her the n-word. The trustee, Nancy Elgie, ultimately resigned from the board following months of public pressure. 

In 2017, Grant received an apology from the York Region District School Board following a human rights complaint, with the board agreeing to establish a human rights office to collect equity-related data and conduct mandatory racism and anti-Black racism training among other commitments. 

Since then, she has heard not only from countless families but also Black educators with children in Ontario school boards afraid to speak out. It’s a problem she says the provincial government has had months to act on — noting the group has been calling for random equity audits at boards since August 2020 — but to-date, it hasn’t. 

“If there’s one thing I personally have learned throughout this COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that policies and procedure can go out the door and things can happen very quickly when governments are motivated to do it — when other lives are in danger. But our Black student lives are in danger and its been in danger for a very long time,” she said. “And it’s hurtful and harmful and traumatizing.”

CBC News has reached out to the provincial government for a response.

Province launching Black advocacy in schools program

A day before the launch of the tool, the province announced will invest $6 million over the next three years through a new program called the Student and Family Advocates Initiative in Ottawa, Hamilton and the Greater Toronto Area.

“The advocates will provide community-based and culturally relevant supports to Black students ages 6-25 and act as advocates for Black families within the education system,” the province said in a news release.

That support will include things like working with students to develop plans for achieving their goals and connect students and families to resources like job-placements, scholarships, or leadership opportunities, it said, as well as working alongside community partners to “amplify” the voices of Black students and families to make changes in the education system. 

“Since I started in the role of Advocate for Community Opportunities in December 2019, I’ve consistently heard from parents, youth, and grassroots community groups that we need to build community capacity to navigate the education system and hold schools accountable,” said Jamil Jivani, Ontario’s Advocate for Community Opportunities. 

The launch of the Black parent group’s reporting tool comes on the heels of a first-of-its kind report by the Toronto District School Board’s human rights office that found “a serious racism problem” within the board, with reports of anti-Black racism exceeding all other hate incidents documented there in the past year.

The report found race-related complaints made up 69 per cent of all reported hate incidents in the 2019-2020 school year, with anti-Black racism making up the biggest share. (Toronto District School Board)

That report followed an unanimous vote by TDSB trustees in 2019, out of which the board developed a formal policy requiring TDSB employees report any such incidents that they encounter to managerial staff.

‘This is what courage looks like’

Speaking to CBC News, TDSB spokesperson Shari Schwartz-Maltz said the TDSB welcomes all new tools to gather more details on racist and hate incidents within the school board and their schools, and are also open to perfect the tool they already have in place. 

Parents and members of the Peel District School Board, meanwhile, can direct complaints to the board’s human rights office, which the board spokesperson Tiffany Gooch describes as an “arm’s length, independent and neutral office that will confidentially receive, resolve and where appropriate, investigate complaints of racism and discrimination in a fair, just an equitable manner.”

That board says it will be implementing the first phase of a mandatory reporting system for staff this week, which will include instances of anti-Black racism. It also says it is working on transforming and strengthening its human rights office to “rebuilt trust” that complaints are taken seriously. 

But speaking to reporters Tuesday, educator and POBC group member Claudette Rutherford pointed out that when it comes to boards’ own human rights offices, staff may well be underreporting out of concern for backlash.

“Teachers as well as parents are far less likely to go that route because they’re not trusting of, ‘Is it arm’s length?'” said Rutherford, who has been teaching for nearly two decades.

“Even me coming here now, I understand the risk that it puts me at but I feel like I don’t have a choice anymore,” she added.

“This is what courage looks like,” said Grant. “Being afraid and still doing it.”

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


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