In the past five years the Durham District School Board (DDSB) has been slowly moving to address systemic racism. Data identifying disparities in disciplinary action and education outcomes for its racialized students have been available since 2015, and this systemic inequity has been reinforced by repeated incidents of racist behaviour perpetrated by teachers and administrators. A human rights complaint in 20151 sparked a move towards community consultation and systems-wide measures to support racialized students, leading to the creation of the Equity and Diversity Strategic Plan, the Compendium of Action for Black Student Success, the Workforce Census and the Student Census. However, these measures consistently lack accountable timelines, communication of achievable goals, or clear measurements for progress in areas of concern. Though the DDSB’s equity measures seem robust, they either lack substantive measurements to display if actions taken are having an effect, or they fail to communicate what these measurements may be.
Brief Timeline of Recent Race Relations in the DDSB:
2008-2014 - Findings of Racial Disparities and Failure to Collect Race-Based Disciplinary Data
In 2008, the mother of a child who is Black filed a lawsuit and complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal against the DDSB on claims of systemic racism. Her daughter was arrested at school for slapping another student, which her mother claimed she did not do. As a part of this investigation, the girl’s family brought in a researcher to analyze whether there is a pattern of racially biased punishment in the DDSB. The DDSB did not and still does not collect data on race and school disciplinary action, therefore the investigation had to use yearbook data and anecdotal evidence to estimate the suspension and expulsion rate of Black students as compared to White students. The investigation ultimately found out that Black students were 7.7 times more likely to be suspended then their White counterparts1. Though the Human Rights Tribunal did not rule in the family’s favour in their 2014 verdict, the Tribunal did say that “the racial disparity is so glaring as to cry out for further investigation and review by the respondent school board”.
In 2013, an Ajax Trustee asked staff to investigate the need for race-based data with regards to student suspensions and expulsions. After a report on the issue, the Board of Trustees decided to continue to not collect such data.
Racialized parents have also raised concerns about issues such as streaming, drop-out rates, and academic discrimination against their children. However, without disaggregated racial data, it is hard to fully understand the scope of these issues or what effects measures to respond to them are having.
2016-2020 - School Board Responds to Concerns with Ongoing Results
Due to the above concerns expressed by the community, the DDSB hired Justice D.F. McLeod to run a number of community consultation sessions to hear and address community concerns. In 2018, as a result of these consultations, the DDSB conducted a Staff Census and released their Equity and Diversity Strategic Plan, along with their Compendium of Action for Black Student Success. The census displayed a disproportionate lack of racialized staff, with 89% of their staff being White, with only 21% of their staff identifying as racialized. The DDSB responded by constructing their Equitable Hiring Framework, but this document is not available to the public at this time.
The Equity and Diversity Strategic Plan and Compendium of Action for Black Success lay out a diverse set of action items being implemented to combat racism in the DDSB. However, these documents are lacking any details about how these action items will be achieved. They do set overarching goals, but lack specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, or time-bound specificities as to how these ideals will be achieved. It may be that the DDSB does have measurable targets and accountability measures for these goals, but if so, they have failed to share these measures with the public.
Notably, one specific goal listed in the Compendium is the Board’s intent to collect disaggregated race data regarding student disciplinary action. However, it has not been made clear to the public how this will be carried out and on what timeline.
The DDSB has put in place a significant number of policies and practices to encourage equity and diversity of thought in their school board. Recently, ‘cultural black hair accessories’ have be allowed at Durham catholic schools. Kindergarten, 8th grade, and special-ed teachers will receive anti-black racism training. The school board has undertaken leadership training for Black teachers wanting to take on more senior roles in their schools. For this school year, teachers have received resources on how to talk about the Black Lives Matter movement and racism with students. The DDSB has also quadrupled the number of black studies courses in recent years as a way to diversify their curriculum.
2017-2020 - Racist Incidents in the DDSB
2017: A group of students who are Black were referred to by a Whitby teacher as a “N-----fest”. After the incident was reported, the teacher was not removed from the school and instead was able to continue teaching while the incident was under investigation.
2018: A White teacher wore a du-rag to a Black History Month event at a Durham catholic high school.
2020: Anti-immigrant posters were placed in three locations throughout Whitby, including one outside a school in Brooklin.
2020: This past week, a high school senior, who is Black, had dedicated his yearbook message to his recently diseased grandma only to find that this message was replaced by a racist comment. In response to this act of violence, the community rallied around him, with Raptor’s commentators and players sending him well wishes through Instagram and the Pinball Clemons Foundation offering him a four-year full-ride scholarship to any Canadian university.
By Noah Kelly, with additional research by Kariann Charlemagne