Marchers take to the streets of Toronto Aug. 3 demanding an end to systemic racism in schools. Michael Swan

Parents step up fight against anti-Black racism

  • August 14, 2020

Parents of Black children are continuing in the push for change as the province works to address issues of systemic racism in Ontario schools.

Organized by Parents of Black Children and the Vaughan African Canadian Association, hundreds of parents and their children came together Aug. 3 for a march and rally in downtown Toronto to outline their collective demands which, despite progress, they say have widely gone unaddressed.

In July, the Ontario government announced plans to end its Grade 9 “applied” and “academic” track streaming which has been a point of controversy among parents for some time. With forms of streaming beginning as early as kindergarten, Kearie Daniel, a founding member of Parents of Black Children, says parents are calling on the provincial government to do more.  

“We’re fed up with the slow approach to respond to this pandemic which is anti-Black racism,” said Daniel, who has a son and a daughter in the York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB). “We’re continuing to put pressure because what they’ve done with the province has been significant, but it’s not enough.”

Among their 10 demands, the parent groups are calling for the province to reform the Education Act to include and identify Black people in Canada as having a right to a curriculum that represents them as much as any other student. Charlene Hines, a mother of four in the YCDSB who with her husband owns and operates DOAHL Dance Academy in Markham, Ont., annually helps to organize Black History Month presentations and curriculum at her children’s school.

“It’s always an effort to kind of go beyond just Black History Month,” said Hines.

“We’re trying to just encourage more. I’m in constant communication with my kids’ teachers to ask what they’re doing to (teach Black history and culture), because oftentimes if you don’t inquire, they don’t do anything.”

Members are also advocating for the hiring of more Black teachers, guidance counsellors and administrative staff to address the lack of representation within the school system, an issue that for Daniel hits painfully close to home.

When flipping through her child’s junior kindergarten progression booklet, she recalls being “floored” when she noticed her daughter was drawing herself as black at the beginning of the school year and by the end of the year was drawing herself as white with blonde hair and blue eyes.

“I get really emotional every time,” said Daniel, fighting back tears. “We take pains to make sure that we uplift them, that we pour love and self-worth and instil the beauty of who they are before they even leave the house.

“I could see the point within my daughter where she didn’t find self-worth in the way she looked. To me, it was a direct result of being in the school system and the harm it does to the mind of a little child when she doesn’t see herself reflected anywhere she turns.”

Teacher bias is also a topic of deep concern for parents as they seek to address the over surveillance and punishment of Black children. Daniels says it took a long time for her son to recover from experiences with racial prejudice from a teacher in Grade 2.

“He couldn’t breathe in the class without me getting a phone call,” she said. “ ‘He wasn’t standing in line correctly; he told a story and she’s concerned because in the story he said the bunny died; we’re having art class and he has scissors and he’s a danger to himself and others.’ ”

Daniel found out later her son, who is now in Grade 4, was being sent out of the classroom or to the office to “cool off.” She says the family was perplexed as to what was going on until they were told her son said to his teacher, “I am not your slave.”

“He was seven and couldn’t articulate, ‘I feel targeted’ or ‘I’m being treated with harsher punishment for the same behaviour that my friends are exhibiting.’ That’s his way of articulating and taking a bit of his power back. That’s when I realized this is a problem.”

On July 29, YCDSB trustees approved the 2020-2021 budget which includes an additional $175,500 as a “key investment” to support the work of the Human Rights, Equity, Inclusion & Diversity Advisory Committee which was launched on June 3. Mary Battista, interim director of education, says the board is “determined to address the historical and current injustices experienced by students and parents” and has “prioritized the elimination of all forms of racism, especially anti-Black racism, and all other inequities that exist in our system.”

“I can absolutely state that the Catholic school trustees and Catholic school boards are united in our commitment to do all we can to eradicate the evils of anti-Black and all other forms of racism and discrimination,” said Pat J. Daly, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association.

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