Province Announces Changes To Tackle Racism, Inequity In Ontario’s Schools

Thursday July 9th, 2020

Posted at 1:36pm

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File photo of Education Minister Stephen Lecce, centre.

The Ontario government has announced changes to the province’s education system designed to “break down barriers for Black, Indigenous and racialized students” and “provide all students with an equal opportunity to succeed.”

The province’s plan includes ending Grade 9 streaming into applied and academic courses, proposing to eliminate discretionary suspensions for students, strengthening sanctions for teachers who engage in behaviour of a racist nature, and providing teachers with additional anti-racism and anti-discrimination training.

Details were announced today by Premier Doug Ford, Deputy Premier Christine Elliott, Education Minister Stephen Lecce, and Jamil Jivani, Ontario’s Advocate for Community Opportunities.

“To help our young people reach their full potential, we have to start earlier to create equal opportunity for them, whether that’s reforming suspensions for primary grades or ending the practice of streaming for Grade 9 students,” said Premier Doug Ford. “Above all, our government will not tolerate racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia or hate in any form in our schools. Through these initiatives to promote equality in education, we will ensure students from all walks of life are set up for lifelong success.”

Eliminating Discretionary Suspensions

The government is proposing to eliminate discretionary suspensions for students from kindergarten up to Grade 3, beginning this September. Officials say serious offences will still be subject to mandatory suspensions.

The province’s suspension data from the 2018 to 2019 school year shows that over 65,000 elementary and secondary students in Ontario were suspended.

Officials say about 10 per cent (6,395) of suspended students were among the youngest learners, in kindergarten to Grade 3. They say 40 per cent of suspensions in those early years were issued for undefined reasons.

The province is providing a projected $40.9 million to help school boards implement suspension policies, including the hiring of professional staff and implementing prevention and intervention activities and programs.

The province’s plan also gives school boards the ability to use portions of their $10 million in new mental health funding to provide students, educators, and staff with the resources and training needed to implement the new suspension policies.

Ending Grade 9 Streaming

The government is also proposing to end the process of Grade 9 streaming into academic and applied courses, starting in September 2021.

Officials say students enrolled in applied-level courses have multiple negative outcomes and limited opportunities for post-secondary advancement.

“Every student ― irrespective of the colour of their skin, faith, heritage, and orientation ― deserves every opportunity to succeed in the classroom,” said Educaton Minister Stephen Lecce. “The transformational change we are driving forward will embolden a generation of students and unleash their full potential, absent the systemic barriers that hold them back. To racialized students in Ontario: we see you, and we value you. We will stand with all students on this journey to advance respect, dignity, and opportunity.”

The province says 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.

The province is also planning to introduce a new foundational Grade 9 math course for September 2021 and will work with school boards as they transition students into a de-streamed Grade 9 math program. Officials say the de-streaming of the Grade 9 math curriculum is the first step towards further de-streaming in other curriculum areas, which they say will “better support all students in having every opportunity to pursue the pathway of their choice after their K-12 education.”

“We must recognize that today’s changes are the result of our government and community members working together,” said Jamil Jivani, Ontario’s Advocate for Community Opportunities. “In particular, parents in Ontario’s Black communities have been a powerful voice for change, providing their unique insights in how suspensions and streaming have disadvantaged black students.”

Sanctions For Racist Teachers

The province is also planning to strengthen sanctions for teachers who engage in behaviour of a racist nature.

Officials say over the last 23 years, the Ontario College of Teachers reports that there have been 32 instances of teacher discipline for racist or homophobic behavior or remarks.

The Ministry of Education has also proposed additional anti-racism and anti-discrimination training before the end of the calendar year. The province says they are currently consulting with teachers’ federations, education workers’ unions, and trustees’ associations on the implementation.

Collection Of Racial Demographic Data

Provincial officials also announced that all school boards in Ontario will be required to collect race-based data by January 1st, 2023, a requirement made under the Anti-Racism Act and Anti-Racism Data Standards.

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