The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) was founded in 1998 after the amalgamation of six GTA school boards previously known as the Metropolitan Toronto School Board. The TDSB is Canada’s largest school board and the fourth largest school board in North America, serving 583 schools and approximately 247,000 students. Toronto’s diverse population is reflected in the student body of the TDSB, with 71% of students identifying as non-White.
In 1970, the Toronto Board of Education (Toronto’s pre-amalgamation school board) recognized a need to diversifying its K-12 curriculum. Studies conducted by the Board had shown that Black student’s learning outcomes lagged behind that of White students. In response, Black teachers and community members called for a diversification of the provincial curriculum, stating that a growingly diverse student body required learning materials that reflected their lived experience. This call for educational diversity has been echoed by community members in the decades since, with numerous provincial studies highlighting Ontario’s need for curriculum reform. Though some steps have been made, the Ontario government has continually blocked community engagement and stalled needed diversification of the provincial curriculum. The Ontario curriculum to remains Eurocentric, failing to represent the lives of non-White students.
The term school-to-prison pipeline (SPP) describes the disproportional impact that harsh school disciplinary policies that criminalize students have on marginalized populations, causing the education system to become an avenue for racialized youth to enter the criminal justice system. These harsh disciplinary policies can also lead to the criminalization of racialized students outside of school, as students who are missing school do to expulsions or suspensions are twice as likely to be arrested during these periods of punishment. The school-to-prison pipeline is intrinsically linked to the explosion in incarcerations that occurred within Canada and the US starting in the late 1970s. An increase in the criminalization and incarceration of racialized students at this time mirrors the mass-incarceration of racialized people more broadly. In Ontario, the root of the SPP phenomenon are commonly linked to the Safe Schools Act (2000), which was largely seen as a companion policy to the Safe Streets Act (1999). However, the phenomenon stems farther back then these two documents.
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.
The Peel District School Board (PDSB) is one of Canada’s most diverse school boards, with 83% of students self-identifying as racialized, with large South Asian, East Asian, and Black student populations. The PDSB contains 257 schools, 155,000 students and is the largest employer in the Peel region. The diversity of its student body is not mirrored in the Board’s staff, however, with 67% self-identifying as white.
In the last five years, York Region District School Board (YRDSB) has repeatedly shown a failure by staff at all levels to adequately respond to incidents of racism perpetrated students, teachers, principles and senior staff. This pattern, along with a consistent failure by the Board of Trustees to display characteristics of transparency and good governance, led to an erosion of public confidence in the Board. In 2017, this concern was met with a Provincial review of the YRDSB governance structure and equity policies. This review displayed deep dysfunctions in the Board’s ability to carry out the essential actions of government and a dismissal of concerns surrounding racism and equity, leading to the resignation of the then-Director of Education. The Board responded to the review’s recommendations with a robust five year performance-based Equity Action Plan, covering a wide range of action items meant to overhaul the YRDSB’s policies surrounding equity in education and response to racism in the school Board. However, this pattern of failure in responding to racist incidents in still persists, with the Board facing a 2019 $1M lawsuit for failing to responding to racist abuse of a student in Newmarket.