'Serious racism problem' within Toronto school board, first-of-its-kind report finds

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A new, first-of-its-kind report documents a "a serious racism problem" within the Toronto District School Board, with reports of anti-Black racism exceeding all other hate incidents documented in the past school year.

The annual report by the board's human rights office examined reports of hate activity among its more than 245,000 students and 40,000 staff over a two-year period from 2018 to 2020.

The findings give "cause for deep concern," it said.

"The data clearly indicates that the board continues to have a serious racism problem... Incidents of racism and hate occur in TDSB schools daily and they do so in significant numbers."

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. Incidents related to a person's sexual orientation accounted for 17 per cent, while creed or religion made up 14 per cent.

Toronto District School Board
Toronto District School Board

Sixty-four hate incident reports were filed by June 2019, while the following school year saw 312 reported.

The data also revealed "significant growth" in the number of reports involving anti-Asian sentiment, which grow from zero to four per cent over the span of two years.

Reports of homophobia also grew by seven per cent.

We know as Black parents that we send our children into the education system unprotected. - Kearie Daniel

Meanwhile, the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents grew "at an alarming rate" from 15 to 31, but made up a lesser share in 2019-2020 than the year before, down from 23 per cent to 11 per cent of the total reported hate incidents.

Reports of Islamophobia made up just two per cent of the total last year, while reports of "other" racially-motivated incidents accounted for 21 per cent.

'It's about time'

Tanya Hayles says the report only confirms what Black parents reporting racially-motivated incidents have long known.

"My first thought was, 'It's about time,'" she said.

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CBC

Oftentimes, she said, Black parents' concerns are met with comments like, "'Oh you're playing the race card, you're just being paranoid' or 'Are you sure? This person has black friends.'"

"Having the numbers just bolsters our confidence to say, 'No this is an actual problem that happens systematically across the board... It's not just in our heads.'"

On the disproportionate number of anti-Black incidents reported, Hayles says that too is not a surprise, pointing out anti-Black racism exists across various cultures.

"It's not just white on Black," she said. "There is a lot of anti-Black racism by people of colour against Black people."

Kearie Daniel agrees the findings aren't a surprise.

Daniel, a founding board member of Parents of Black Children, a group that supports black families across the province, points out individuals can experience anti-Black racism in a variety of ways.

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CBC

Those experiences can include not being called on in a classroom when you're the only Black child there, disproportionate suspensions for Black students, and streaming students from as young as junior kindergarten

"We know as Black parents that we send our children into the education system unprotected. We're not there to shield them," she said.

"Often they're experiencing these things and they're so young, they have no idea. They don't have the words, they're not able to articulate what it is they're experiencing. You see it come out in other ways, in their response, in behaviour in their interest in school."

For Daniel, the report is an opportunity for the board to create a strategy to address systemic anti-Black racism.

'We must be relentless,' board says

Thursday's report follows a unanimous vote by TDSB trustees in 2019 out of which the board developed a formal policy on reporting and responding to racism and hate incidents involving or impacting students in schools. The policy requires that TDSB employees report any such incidents that they encounter to managerial staff.

In response to the data, the report proposes a multi-pronged approach that involves bolstering its human rights office; continually reviewing its policies and procedures to ensure they are free of bias; increasing transparency and developing plans to hold individuals accountable for upholding human rights; developing a "human rights charter" for schools; and developing an early-resolution system for resolving complaints.

Reports of hate incidents are expected to increase in the coming year with the implementation of an online reporting portal, implemented in the 2020-2021 school year, Ward 8 trustee Shelley Laskin pointed out in a tweet Thursday.

"We must be relentless in addressing each and every one of these incidents," the report says.

"Drawing greater emphasis to these issues has brought them to the surface so that they can be dealt with in a thorough manner and tracked appropriately for follow up."

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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CBC