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Message from the Director of Education - Addressing Anti-Black Racism
Message from the Director of Education - Addressing Anti-Black Racism

June 16, 2020


We are dedicated to enabling all students to achieve personal excellence. Our classrooms and workplaces must be safe and inclusive and our environments positively affirm student and staff identities.  Our priority of championing equity and inclusivity has a focus on addressing incidents of anti-Black racism.  We are providing you with an update on our progress this year and details on our plans for the year ahead.  Transparency and accountability are essential elements of our plan.


In May 2019, we embarked on a system-wide commitment to addressing anti-Black racism as a key priority.  We established two committees to lead this work. The first being, the Anti-Black Racism Steering Committee made up of Black community leaders representing various agencies supporting York Region and beyond, students and staff; this committee is responsible for developing the board’s Anti-Black Racism Strategy that will include a monitoring and evaluation framework.  The second was the Anti-Black Racism Advisory Committee which included academic scholars who provided insight and a critical equity and human rights lens to ensure our progress is reflective of evidence-informed practice. Members on the committee include:

  • Dr. Lorne Foster, Professor of Public Policy and Human Rights, Director, Institute for Social Research (ISR), York University; 

  • Dr. Wesley Crichlow, Professor, Department of Criminology and Justice Studies, Ontario Tech University; 

  • Dr. Jane Ngobia, Vice President of Inclusive Communities, Sheridan College;

  • Nancy Simms, Director of Humber College Centre for Human Rights Diversity and Equity; 

  • Ena Chadha, Human Rights Lawyer and Chair of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre Board of Directors; and

  • Patrick Case, Assistant Deputy Minister, Education Equity Secretariat, Ministry of Education 

 

 Over the course of the past year, the Steering committee has met almost monthly; the Advisory committee has met twice and is regularly consulted. 


While the committees have been established and continue planning, anti-oppression work has progressed:

  • A mandatory all-staff professional development session on anti-Black racism was held in October.

  • A two-day conference was hosted on Culturally and Socially Responsive Means to Supporting Student Mental Health with focus sessions on anti-Black racism led by a well-regarded clinician in this field.

  • A text selection tool and a selection procedure for learning resources have been created and shared with intermediate literacy teachers and librarians to ensure all curriculum materials positively affirm the identities of students. System-wide implementation will take place in the fall.

  • A public-facing online reporting tool was developed and will be promoted in September to encourage reporting incidents of anti-Black racism. 

  • An internal-facing incident tracking tool was developed to enable data gathering and effective, consistent and thorough system-level responses. 

  • Two Black graduation coaches were hired with special funding from the Ministry to support identity affirming school conditions and the achievement of positive outcomes for Black students in four secondary schools.

  • Discipline practices are being reviewed with an objective to implement alternate means of student discipline other than suspension for racialized students. This is being done through participation in the Ministry of Education’s pilot project, Keeping Kids in School. 

  • The Indigenous and Racialized Leaders Mentorship Program launched with the aim to expand the pool of qualified leadership applicants to better represent the diversity in our district.

  • Based on feedback from the Anti-Black Racism Steering Committee, an intensified celebration of Black History month elevating the profiles of community, students and staff was launched in February and continued beyond to underscore that everyday is a celebration of Black excellence.

  • Podcasts on equity and inclusion were published to build professional capacity and support board priorities.

  • Phase One data results of the Every Student Counts Census were released publicly and we continue to work with community leaders on appropriate interpretation of the data and implementation of recommendations.

  • Budget and system supports were dedicated to Rise Brothers, a mentorship program for 25 Grade 9 and 10 Black male students. Rise Brothers is aimed at connecting these young men with Black male mentors, working on their leadership potential, affirming their Black identity while ensuring their academic success and well-being, and learning about structures that reinforce anti-Black racism  

  • In June of this year, close to 1,000 staff members from across the system are attending a webinar on “Being Responsive to Racial Trauma Related to Anti-Black Racism.”

  • Strategies, communication tools and resources and mental health support resources were created to support staff, students and families who are managing the trauma of anti-Black racism and, specifically the community context following Mr. George Floyd’s murder.


There is much more work to be done. 


I’m pleased to share that following a procurement process, Turner Consulting Group has been selected to develop YRDSB’s Anti-Black Racism Strategy. 


Turner Consulting Group has worked with our Board previously, supporting our Equity Audit in 2018. Tana Turner, principal consultant, is a researcher, consultant, and advocate for social justice and systems change. In the early 1990s, Tana worked within the provincial government to develop employment equity legislation, and to implement employment equity within the Ontario Public Service. Since 2002, she has worked as a consultant to support organizations in the non-profit and public sectors to understand and respond to the increased diversity of the labour market, employee population, and population served. She has supported a number of school boards on their equity journey, including Durham Catholic DSB, Thames Valley DSB, and York Catholic DSB among others.


Tana has also worked on a number of seminal projects to help organizations understand how anti-Black racism manifests itself and to work for systemic change. These projects include:

 


We look forward to reviewing the strategies identified by the new Anti-Black Racism Strategy and implementing the recommendations. In the year ahead we commit to publishing our Anti-Black Racism Strategy. While Ms Turner consults with community leaders and reviews data and consultation reports to inform its development, staff will:

  • Consult with community leaders to analyze the disaggregated data of racialized students in preparation for the public release of Phase Two of the Every Student Counts Survey. 

  • Establish a Student Pathways working group to identify and eliminate barriers to racialized student achievement (course selection, program choice).

  • Co-create with stakeholders, a system-wide professional development plan that will be focused on human rights, bias-awareness and anti-oppression.

  • Continue the implementation of action plans related to the board's Employment Equity Plan.

  • Phase-in the internal incident tracking system.

  • Launch the external facing anonymous reporting tool, Report It, specific to anti-Black racism.

  • Conduct an inventory of resources in the  Learning Commons of schools to ensure effective implementation of the board’s Text Selection tool.

  • Establish an Anti-Black Racism Strategy presence on our webpage, hosting resources and updates for our community. 


Public education is a cornerstone of equity.  All children can and must achieve personal excellence.  Anti-Black racism does not only exist in society, but it also exists within our education system. Each of us has personal biases that may lead to inappropriate discipline, grading, pathways or promotions. System procedures and practices may impede access to opportunities. The leadership of York Region District School Board is committed to identifying and removing barriers for Black students and staff to enable improved outcomes.


We will report our progress on our commitments to you. 


Sincerely,


Louise Sirisko

Director of Education



 
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