Update — March 3, 2021: This article has been updated to include a statement from the Ontario Ministry of Education, reaffirming its commitment to have school boards collect race-based data.
A parents group advocating for Black students has launched a tool where school staff across Canada can report and track anti-Black racism.
Parents of Black Children (PoBC) created an online tool for educators and school board employees across Canada to anonymously report incidents of anti-Black racism that they have witnessed against students, colleagues, or experienced themselves.
“We want you to know what racism looks like when the doors are closed,” said board member Charlene Hines at a virtual press conference Tuesday. “We know it’s happening and we know it’s not being addressed.”
As an organization, PoBC is frequently hearing stories of racism, as shared by concerned parents, but that’s only a piece of the story.
“This only captures the racism that parents know about,” said co-founder Kearie Daniel. “It doesn’t capture the racist incidents that educators may see in their colleagues’ classrooms and never report. It doesn’t cover the racist comments (said) in the teachers’ lounge or over email.
“And it doesn’t cover the reprisals that Black teachers and their allies may face for standing up for Black students,” Daniel continued.
Founding member Claudette Rutherford is also a department head at the York Region District School Board, and can relate to the risk of speaking up.
“Even me coming here I understand the risk that it puts me at but I feel like I don’t have a choice anymore,” said Rutherford, who has been teaching for 19 years.
PoBC has long demanded the collection of disaggregated, race-based data, which has not been fulfilled by most school boards.
“If we do not measure the problem, we will not be able to systemically fix it,” said Caitlin Clark, a spokesperson for the Minister of Education Stephen Lecce.
She said the minister has reaffirmed the mandate that all school boards must collect race-based data.
“The Government will ensure school boards collect and publicize this data to create accountability, transparency and action to fix long-standing systemic barriers that hold back Black and other racialized children in Ontario,” Clark continued.
Earlier this month, the Toronto District School Board released its first human rights report, which covered 2018-2020 and revealed a prevalence of anti-Black racism, which was reported by teachers.
The TDSB created a new requirement that principals must report hate incidents in its own online portal. But TDSB spokesperson Shari Schwartz-Maltz previously told the Star that she believes it is the only board currently collecting such information.
As stories are submitted, PoBC plans to release the anonymized stories publicly, to school board leadership and ministries of education. The organizers note that being independent from school boards is an asset.
In August 2020, PoBC held a protest for change in Ontario schools, and made 10 demands, including data collection, hiring more Black teachers, an end to streaming in all grades and decolonizing curriculum. As an organization, PoBC has already started filling some of their requests itself. Co-founder Charline Grant is a system navigator, which helps guide and support parents dealing with racism and disputes within schools.
Members say they have not heard from the Ministry of Education.
The government has moved forward with is ending streaming in Grade 9 and other “racist, discriminatory” practices, announced in July 2020. On Monday, Ontario announced it would be investing $6 million over the next three years to support Black students through a student and family advocates initiative in Ottawa, Hamilton and the GTA.
In speaking about the data collection tool, Grant emphasized that it isn’t just data being collected, they are real “traumatic” experiences.
“We already know anti-Black racism exists and is rampant in our schools,” she said. “This is just to give everybody a window into what we’re experiencing.”
Angelyn Francis is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering equity and inequality. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach her via email: email@example.com
Angelyn Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Toronto Star