GECDSB apologizes over anti-Black racism, launches 5-year strategy

·4 min read
The Greater Essex County District School Board has released a five-year strategy to tackle anti-Black racism within schools. (Chris Ensing/CBC - image credit)
The Greater Essex County District School Board has released a five-year strategy to tackle anti-Black racism within schools. (Chris Ensing/CBC - image credit)

The English public school board in Windsor-Essex is apologizing to the Black community following the release of a third-party report that was critical of its actions to stop anti-Black racism.

The Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) is also launching a five-year strategy to tackle the issue.

That plan was informed by feedback from the school community and staff, including an online survey. Nearly 700 people, including 98 people who identified as Black, participated in the consultations.

The report includes anonymous comments from students, staff, parents and caregivers, sharing experiences of racism while at school, along with failures to address it.

The board hired a consulting firm to prepare the report following complaints from leaders in the Black community last year.

"There have been many instances of the N-word being used, along with bullying about clothing.... Teachers were notified, and nothing was taken seriously," said one person whose comments appeared in the report.

The report also refers to "slave days," where a class would compete with another, and the losing class was required to be "slaves" for the day.

Chris Ensing/CBC
Chris Ensing/CBC

"Coming from this community, I know that anti-Black racism exists," said Josh Canty, the board's superintendent of education. "But to read it and to hear the stories. It was traumatizing to have to read it."

Director of education Erin Kelly apologized in the report, saying it's "undeniable that Black students, staff and families have not always felt as welcomed, listened to, supported or encouraged as they should have been."

"On behalf of the Greater Essex County District School Board, I apologize to the Black communities of Windsor and Essex County and to those individuals who have experienced anti-Black racism as a result of our actions or inactions. We know we must do better and we will do better. Now we have a plan in place and a strategy that will hold us accountable."

Chris Ensing/CBC
Chris Ensing/CBC

Leslie McCurdy, chair of the Black Council of Windsor-Essex, who was on the steering committee for the project, spoke at the virtual meeting where the board's strategy was presented on Wednesday night.

She shared experiences of racism that she and her family members had experienced within the school system.

"It is in the continued spirit of collective co-operation that we look forward to remaining engaged with the Greater Essex County District School Board to collaborate on the implementation of this anti-Black racism strategy, so that negative experiences like the ones that my son, I, and many other Black students, staff and parents have had experienced will cease," she said.

The survey, completed as part of the consultations, had about 600 respondents. Thirty-two per cent of respondents who are Black said equitable outcomes for Black students are important to the school board, compared with 77 per cent of non-Black respondents.

Eighteen per cent of Black respondents said Black students get the support that they need to succeed, while 49 per cent of non-Black respondents agreed.

Only 14 per cent of survey respondents who are Black said managers and school administrators understand workplace anti-Black racism and how to address it, and 17 per cent of Black respondents said when issues arise they are effectively addressed.

In one comment shared in the report, a person said they felt retaliation from the board and educators for drawing attention to acts of anti-Black racism in the past.

"I am truly fearful of hitting the 'done' button below," they wrote in an online form.

The recommendations

The five-year strategy, outlined in a 34-page report, contains more than 40 actions grouped under five strategic priorities.

The strategy includes such things as more training for teachers, a stronger curriculum to foster understanding of anti-Black racism and the contributions of Black people, and the hiring of more Black staff.

According to a survey completed by the board, 10 per cent of GECDSB staff are racialized, while 20 per cent of people in Windsor have a racialized background, according to the 2016 census.

The board also plans to develop guidelines to address the use of racial slurs; review dress codes, school names and mascots through an anti-racist lens; more proactively engage with Black parents; and conduct a student census to identify disparities experienced by Black students.

The full background report and the board's recommendations are available on the GECDSB website.

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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