Toronto District School Board director of education, John Malloy, says the board isn't afraid to admit racism exists and is committed to removing barriers faced by young black students in the school system.
Malloy told Metro Morning on Tuesday — one day after Black Lives Matter Toronto staged a walkout — that he attended the protest himself to because of the "really significant issue of racism" in the TDSB.
"The reason I wanted to go yesterday is to say to our community, to our families, to our students, that we do know that racism exists. We're not afraid to name it," he said. "And we're also asking for everyone's help in terms of making a difference."
Black Lives Matter Toronto held the walkout to lay out its demands targeting anti-black racism in the education system, which included eliminating the TDSB's School Resource Officer Program, which stations uniformed officers in Toronto-area schools.
The protest was also a response to data released in a report last week that indicated a large number of black students are being streamed into applied programs rather than academic and being suspended at much higher rates.
According to the report, educational streaming, a policy in which students are grouped based on ability, was supposed to have ended in 1999. But TDSB data show that black students continue to be directed toward essential and applied programs of study and away from academic courses, more so than white and other racialized students.
Malloy said that he is grateful the TDSB has the data so "we can actually have the hard conversations, something not everyone is willing to do."
"We understand how our kids are doing. We know that we have an over-representation of black kids in say applied classes or special education programs," he said. "We are looking to figure out how why that is."
'Exploring' an end to academic streaming
Malloy said the board is "actually exploring" the option of ending academic streaming.
"Streaming is a structure, and the reality is that structures aren't driving this thing," he said. "What we need to do is get at who each and every student is, what do they require to be successful? How do we raise the bar for everyone?"
Educators need to 'challenge our own bias'
In order to combat racism within the school system, Malloy said, the educators, staff and teachers like himself need to "challenge our own bias that creates barriers" in schools for black students.
"The only way we're able to make a difference is if we, who are the educators, examine our own beliefs, attitudes and practices," he said. "Not just looking at the kids and how they are ... but to look at us."
Malloy said that includes examining the hiring process and making sure that the staff represent the population they are teaching.
"I believe we are making strides in this area [but] I believe we can do better," he said.
In response to Black Lives Matter Toronto's demand to to eliminate the School Resource Officer Program, Malloy said he could not commit to that until he hears more from students.
"I understand the anger, I understand the frustration ... But I ask for a little bit of time so that I can at least reach out and ensure that any decision our board makes is grounded in all the voices that are important for us to be listening to."