Ontario sends investigator to Peel school board after ‘inaction’ on addressing dysfunction and racism
April 30, 2020
Education Minister Stephen Lecce is sending an investigator into the Peel public school board as it continues to struggle to address anti-Black racism and dysfunction.
The board’s troubles are ongoing despite a scathing report last month from three reviewers that prompted Lecce to order more than two dozen fixes -- orders he is now concerned are not being followed.
“I will not idle or allow this process to (drag) on” after years of inaction at the second-largest board in the province, Lecce told the Star in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon.
Lecce has given the investigator, veteran employment and human rights lawyer Arleen Huggins, a two-week window to look at the “clear challenges that are manifesting in the community ... and the ongoing difficulty and lack of adherence to the directives that focused on combating racism and discrimination in all its forms.”
Huggins will conduct an investigation into the Peel board’s compliance with Lecce’s directives, which were issued after a team of reviewers found “painful and difficult” incidents of racism, weak and divisive leadership, and senior administrators who have been “paralyzed by inaction.”
Sue Herbert, left, Ena Chadha and Shawn Richard were called in to probe the board late last year as it struggled with allegations of racism, dysfunction and troubling trustee conduct.
Late last year, Lecce called in Ena Chadha, Sue Herbert and Shawn Richard to conduct the review following a number of incidents -- including a trustee who referred to the diverse McCrimmon middle school as “McCriminal” -- and after a senior administrator in charge of anti-discrimination filed a human rights case.
Their report, delivered in March, found that Black students are less likely to be enrolled in academic classes, are suspended at higher rates -- often for things like “wearing a hoodie” -- and are discouraged from pursuing post-secondary studies at all turns. They also found a lack of diverse staff in the board, which serves Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon.
Lecce then issued 27 directives, with specific timelines, to the board.
“We expect our school leaders -- trustees, senior administration, and educators -- to ensure all students are learning in safe and inclusive classrooms,” Lecce said in a written statement. “This is why effective, transparent, and accountable school board governance is essential to the success and well-being of students in Ontario’s publicly funded schools.”
The Star recently reported that the mediation ordered by Lecce to help a very divided Peel board was falling apart after two trustees said attacks on the Black community continue, and the senior administrator who launched the human rights case had taken a leave of absence.
Huggins, a former head of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, will report her findings to Lecce by May 18.
“The message I am sending (to Peel) is -- do better,” Lecce said. “Our kids deserve better, and I will do whatever it takes to ensure these issues are addressed immediately and effectively.”
About 300 people packed the Peel District School Board meeting chambers on Tuesday, March 10. Three reviewers sent in to investigate the Peel school board found that Black students comprise 10.2 per cent of high school students, but make up 22.5 per cent of those suspended -- and many of those suspensions don’t meet standards set by the Ministry of Education, they found.
Last week, the Peel board’s chair and vice-chair issued a statement saying they are addressing the reviewers’ concerns and were “confused and disheartened” to learn via social media that Lecce felt they hadn’t acted.
“We are left to wonder what the tweet means, as we have clearly followed the directives and met every deadline to date, including the commitment on March 24, 2020, from all trustees to participate in the mediation. And all of this is happening in the midst of the extraordinary efforts staff are undertaking to support students and families during the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote Brad MacDonald and David Green.
“We have heard from many members of the community and staff who are ready to help us continue to move forward with this very important work. They are relying on us to take the Ministry of Education’s report and the minister’s directives very seriously, and we are doing just that. We want everyone to be assured that we will take all necessary action to improve board governance and leadership practices, and work towards eliminating anti-Black racism and system discrimination to improve student and staff outcomes.”