The Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba is the lone caucus to keep quiet about whether it will support the creation of an education office to address systemic racism in K-12 schools.
Equity Matters, an anti-racist coalition representing upwards of 80 community organizations, held a news conference Friday to call on the leaders of Manitoba’s three major political parties to sign a pledge to create an education equity secretariat before Sept. 1, 2023.
“Equity-based education needs to be a bipartisan issue in order to address the learning needs of all students within the public education system,” said Jordan Bighorn, a parent involved with Equity Matters.
Bighorn said a secretariat would provide proactive and ongoing leadership to achieve the above goal.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew and Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont have both confirmed their intention to sign the pledge.
In response to a request for comment from both Tory Premier Heather Stefanson and Education Minister Wayne Ewasko, a provincial spokesperson issued a vague statement.
“(Manitoba) is committed to improving academic and well-being outcomes for all students no matter where they live, their background or individual circumstances. Equity is integral to all engagement, policies, programs and decision-making,” they wrote in an email.
The spokesperson noted officials are working collaboratively with the coalition “to realize our shared priorities.”
Equity Matters’ vision is to have a provincial secretariat do equity-based research and policy development, create inclusive curriculum guidelines, and offer anti-racist training to school employees.
The group wants the office to collect annual data from satellite sites in all school divisions, including suspensions and graduation rates among different populations.
Co-chairwoman Suni Matthews said concrete data is key, because it will allow the province to pinpoint trends and implement strategies to ensure Indigenous and racialized students can achieve their full potential.
The province must publish an annual “report card” to monitor progress and remain accountable, Matthews said.
The leader of the Manitoba Liberals said the province needs to take equity seriously and put money into the issue in order to improve outcomes for approximately 20 per cent of students who are struggling to meet grade-level expectations.
“Making sure that you have a school system and employees who understand the struggles of their students in (and of) itself would make a big difference,” Lamont said.
In an email, Kinew said all children must be welcomed and celebrated at school.
“Manitoba educators are doing their part every day to help kids feel at home, but we know there is more that could be done,” wrote the NDP leader, adding that’s why his party supports the pledge.
Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press