Ontario Taking Bold Action to Address Racism and Inequity in Schools
The Ontario government is taking bold action to break down systemic barriers in schools and establish discrimination-free classrooms to ensure every student is set up for life-long success.
Through Bill 197, COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020, the government is proposing to eliminate discretionary suspensions for students from kindergarten up to Grade 3, beginning September 2020. Serious offences will still be subject to mandatory suspensions.
The latest suspension data in 2018-19 shows that over 65,000 elementary and secondary students were suspended. Students with special education needs made up almost half of all those suspended that year. About 10 per cent (6,395) of suspended students were among the youngest learners, in kindergarten to Grade 3. In addition, 40 per cent of suspensions in those early years were issued for undefined reasons, meaning it is not known why the youngest learners in schools are suspended.
Furthermore, there is over-representation of students from historically underserved and racialized communities in suspension data, including:
- In Ontario's two largest school boards (Toronto District School Board and Peel District School Board), Black students make up 11 per cent and 10 per cent of the student population but represent over 34 per cent and 22 per cent of students receiving suspensions, respectively.
As of September 2021, the government will begin the process of ending Grade 9 streaming into applied and academic courses. Currently, students enrolled in applied-level courses have multiple negative outcomes and limited opportunities for post-secondary advancement. This includes:
- Students enrolled in applied courses are over four times more likely to not graduate;
- 33 per cent of students who took the Grade 9 applied courses transitioned directly into college or university, compared to 73 per cent of students who took the academic courses;
- Over 13 per cent of students in applied courses live in low-income households, compared to just over seven per cent in academic courses; and,
- 50 per cent of students enrolled in applied courses feel they do not belong at school
There is clear research-informed evidence that when schools have staff that reflect the social identities of their students, there are immediate and long-term positive impacts on student achievement. The Ministry of Education is exploring increased opportunities for boards to hire educators that reflect their classrooms and ensure that there is a consistently high standard of merit and diversity in those who are teaching Ontario's students.
The government will take immediate action, including working with the Ontario College of Teachers to publish a Professional Advisory for members. This will be accompanied by a Policy/Program Memorandum (PPM) to school boards to reinforce the Professional Advisory, and to provide guidance in dealing with behaviour or remarks of a racist nature.
It is expected that, as the government consults with key partners in addressing anti-Black racism and discrimination, this PPM will serve as an interim method of ensuring school boards have clear direction on how to immediately respond to incidences and allegations of racism and discrimination. To further strengthen the expectations of educators, staff, and school boards, the government may explore amendments to the Ontario College of Teacher's Act to ensure there are clear, transparent, and effective accountability and recourse measures in rapidly responding to instances and allegations of anti-Black racism and discrimination.
The ministry has also proposed additional anti-racism and anti-discrimination training before the end of the calendar year. The government is currently consulting with teachers' federations, education workers' unions, and trustees' associations on the implementation of this critical initiative.
The ministry will also continue to work with the Anti-Racism Directorate (ARD) to establish additional anti-racism initiatives in the education system that are grounded in evidence and research.
While there is existing data that boards and the Ministry rely on for understanding the demographics and achievement of students and staff, boards currently have limited and varying capacity to apply a demographic lens to their data. The collection of this student and staff identity data will be implemented immediately. Boards will have until the beginning of the 2023 calendar year to ensure that they are aligned with province-wide data collection efforts.