Cycle of Concern: Addressing the Challenges of Racism in Ontario School Boards

Over the past 6 months, we have been plagued with experiences of anti-Black racism in the Ontario Schools Boards in the media. Beginning with the report by the Peel District School Board, We Rise Together: The Peel District School Board Action Plan to Support Black Male Students, and more recently with the highlighting of experiences with racism in the York Region District School Board, it is clear that conversations on racism in school environments have been brought to the forefront…yet again.

The issue of racism in schools is nothing new. Academics such as George Dei, Carl James, Henry Codjoe, Frances Henry and Carol Tator, have provided invaluable research into the existence of individual and institutional forms of racism at all levels of schooling in Canada. Over the years, in response to these issues we have adapted what I am calling the – Cycle of Concern:

(Step 1) Highlight the inadequacies and experiences of racism in schools
(Step 2) Showcase the issues in mainstream and social media
(Step 3) Make promises and commitments to promote and sustain ‘diversity and inclusion’
(Step 4) End Dialogue

It is time to break the cycle.

Real problems must be met with real solutions. Provided below are tips/reflective questions to support school educators and administrators as they work towards eliminating racism in their environments:

  • The days for lumping are over. “Diversity”, “Minorities”, “Marginalized”, “Inclusion” – these terms all sound very nice, but nice does not effect real change. Time has proven that these terms have done little to address and eliminate the experiences of racism for Black and Indigenous teachers, staff members and students. Today, schools have found ease and pride in highlighting initiatives that address issues specific to the LGBTQ2S* students or students with disabilities. Yet that same comfort has not yet translated when speaking on issues of race. There is such a thing as “Black issues”. Though race is socially constructed, it has real impacts. It is time for school boards to have the courage to identify and address anti-Black racism in their environments.

SIDE NOTE – Though media attention has primarily been focused on the experiences of Black male students, we must not forget nor neglect the experiences of our Black girls/young women. Acknowledgment of the uniqueness of their experiences is a necessity in achieving real solutions.

  •  A teaching certificate (much like a police uniform) is not a magic wand. It does not magically remove a person’s racial biases and prejudices. Tools must be put in place at the hiring, retention and promotion stages of employment to evaluate teachers and staff members competency and capacity to work through their racial biases and to ensure that stereotypes and prejudices have not informed their teaching practices and attitudes towards students, particularly those who have been disciplined.
  • Can you count on your hands the number of Black teachers and staff members that work within your respective school? If yes, you have an issue of representation and need to take a look at your recruitment strategy to ensure you are accessing the diversity that surrounds you. I need not share the countless research that highlights the importance of students being able to see themselves reflected throughout their schooling environments.
  • What does racial discrimination and harassment look like to you? I have come to understand that individuals do not have a clear understanding of what constitutes racial discrimination and harassment in work and learning environments. School boards need to ensure that all employees attain continuous, mandatory trainings/workshops that reaffirm what behaviors and comments constitute racial discrimination based on the Ontario Human Rights Code in order to prevent such actions from occurring.

How prepared are you to teach and serve the diverse racialized communities that surrounds you? Acknowledging that race intersects with identities such as religion, gender identity, abilities and sexual orientation, it is incumbent for teachers and administrators to not approach these challenges with a one-size fits all solution. This will only continue the “Cycle of Concern” and I will have to write yet another blog.

REACT services is here to support education environments in breaking the cycle. Let’s Connect!

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