PEEL REGION – After over two years, the province has ended its supervision of the Peel District School Board (PDSB).
In 2020, Education Minister Stephen Lecce benched trustees and appointed a supervisor of the board. This followed a probe into the PDSB’s ability to handle concerns about systemic discrimination, specifically anti-Black racism and other issues related to governance, leadership, and human resources practices of the board.
“I am confident that the changes I have made to the senior administration team will help to ensure that the necessary leadership, policies, and practices are in place to allow the board to better serve students and families,” Bruce Rodrigues, former supervisor of PDSB said in a report issued December 23.
“These changes will also ensure that staff at all levels of the board have work environments that are respectful, fair, inclusive, and better represent the communities served by the PDSB.”
“Parents and community leaders will no longer tolerate dysfunction at the Board and will be watching closely how the Board interacts with each other and with the senior leadership team,” continued Rodrigues.
Rodrigues also outlined the progress PDSB has made on the minister’s 27 directives to the PDSB in 2020, which were aimed at addressing the issue of racism and discrimination in its schools.
While they have seen meaningful change since the appointment, members of the advocacy group Parents of Black Children (PoBC) say they have concerns about the end of the province’s supervision.
Parents of Black Children Speak Out
In an interview with The Brandon Gonez Show, PoBC Board of Directors Secretary David Bosveld said he feels the directives were fulsome, adding that some of them have already been implemented. But Bosveld, whose child attends a PDSB school, said the board missed an important piece of the puzzle.
“I think what’s missing is circling back to parents, families, and community members to see [how] these policies and changes at the senior levels, how have they impacted students’ experiences in the classroom,” Bosveld said.
The PoBC board member said he has seen significant positive changes over the last two years, including creating space for community members, advocates, and parents to voice their concerns and beliefs.
PoBC co-founder Charline Grant shared that as an advocate, she has also seen a change in Peel schools under the supervision of the province. This includes having the new director ask PoBC to inform her of every instance of anti-Black racism that is brought to their attention in Peel. But she has some concerns.
“When I heard about the ministry removing the supervisor, I thought to myself ‘What happens now?’ because I thought that was like a protection for the community,” Grant said, adding that she worries that there may be a reversal of the progress they have made over the last few years with trustees back in power.
“[The] community who actually started this were not at the table, and weren’t consulted,” Grant said, adding that the decision was already made when PBoC was informed.
“[The] Black community… always fights and protests, and when decisions are being made that would benefit, satisfy, and support our children, [we’re] usually left out of the conversation,” Grant continued.
Bosveld said he was shocked when he found out that the supervisor was being removed. Although he anticipated a change soon after the October 2022 election, he said the changes happened quicker than anticipated.
“Obviously we would have liked to have a longer runway, and the opportunity to put some guard rails in place to ensure that the work continues and is expedited because our children don’t have time,” Bosveld said.
“We know whenever we make strides as Black folks in equity or anti-Black racism, or lack thereof, there’s always that fear that it’s going to go back,” Grant said, adding that she feels the board would have benefited from an additional year of supervision.
Bosveld explained that many people in the school community have expressed their concerns to him, sharing that they feel the supervision should still be in place, as there is still a need for PoBC and other advocates to step in and speak up for Black students and families.
“We aren’t at a point where people can say ‘Oh my kids are safe going to Peel District Schools’ and we don’t have to be concerned that they may face a racist incident or systemic anti-Blackness,” Bosveld said.
What Does the Ministry Have to Say?
Our team reached out to Education Minister Stephen Lecce for comment on the end of the supervision of the PDSB.
“After two years of supervision and meaningful progress to combat racism and discrimination at the Peel District School Board, Ontario’s government is returning management of the school board to the newly elected board of trustees,” Grace Lee, spokesperson for Minister Stephen Lecce, said.
“Parents can rest assured that the Ministry of Education will continue to ensure all students feel safe and respected within our schools, Lee added.
Officials said the ministry will require PDSB to update their progress every quarter over the next two years. They said this is one of the ways they plan to ensure “accountability and continued progress” in meeting the minister’s directions to address anti-Black racism and other forms of discrimination.
“The PDSB is now in a better position to respond to those issues in a timely, proactive, and transparent manner. Furthermore, the PDSB better understands the importance of working collaboratively and respectfully with communities and families to ensure that all students of the board are well served,” Lee said.
Officials also shared that the whole senior team of the PDSB has undergone an organizational restructuring, including “redefining roles and responsibilities, establishing accountabilities for human rights and equity, as well as all other administrative responsibilities”.
PDSB Shares New Plan to Address Racism
Our team also reached out to the PDSB to ask if the board has a plan to continue to address racism in its schools. In a statement to The Brandon Gonez Show, the board claims to have developed what it calls “the most comprehensive Anti-Racism Policy ever announced by a school board in Ontario,” in addition to a new plan known as the Black Student Success Strategy.
The board says its Anti-Racism Policy will “lead to better outcomes, mitigate racialized outcomes and address systemic inequities” and includes the following steps:
Collecting data to inform issues at PDSB. This includes bullying, suspensions as well as other issues including engagement, well-being and school environment.
Advancing the promotion of cultural safety and inclusive learning for all students with a culturally responsive curriculum.
Providing intensive training to all those with teaching responsibilities and promoting racially responsive leadership.
Actively ensuring diversity and inclusion in its hiring, teacher training, promotion, and leadership.
Having learning materials that reflect diverse student experiences and are racially sensitive.
Establishing a transparent complaint resolution process.
Board officials shared that the Black Student Success Strategy provides “guidelines and actions to eliminate anti-Black racism from PDSB’s operations, resources, staffing and leadership.”
How do you feel about the end of Ontario’s supervision of PDSB? Let us know in the comments!