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Tackling anti-Black racism in education

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The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) recognizes the struggles stemming from systemic anti-Black racism in education, which impedes and stifles progress for many Black communities across Ontario for generations.

The recent rise and increased visibility of anti-Black racism in Ontario has sparked and renewed persistent calls to combat these issues.

Systemic anti-Black racism in Ontario’s publicly-funded education system is a crisis.

Thirty-plus years of reports, studies and grassroots work has proved that anti-Black racism exists in education. The OHRC has studied, investigated, and litigated matters involving systemic anti-Black racism in education for decades, and recent studies show the problems still exist. It is deeply embedded in our institutions, policies, and practices, including in the education system.

The OHRC is heartened by the rise in community activism and engagement concerning anti-Black racism in the public education system. As it looks ahead at future possibilities, it is important to collaborate with communities, schools, educators, and duty-holders to bring about the change needed for Black students. Community voices and voices of Black professionals in the education system must be heard to address anti-Black racism in education and to identify and develop solutions focused on Black students’ well-being, achievement, and belonging.

On February 7, 2024 - Completed our province-wide community consultations on anti-Black racism in education.

On June 24, 2024 - Completed our consultations with Duty-holders.

We thank everyone who participated in the community and duty-holder sessions. Your perspectives have been invaluable in shaping our approach. Drafting our Action Plan is underway, with an anticipated release in early fall. Thank you for your invaluable contributions.

  • Phase one: Project Scoping and Development (Complete)
  • Phase two: Roundtables and What We Heard report ,and Compendium of Recommendations(Complete)
  • Phase three: Written Submissions, Community Engagement, Duty-holder Consultations and Key Informant Interviews (Complete)
  • Phase four: Action Plan (In Progress)
  • Phase five: Monitoring and Implementation (Upcoming)

  • The OHRC completed our engagement with communities across Ontario on February 7, 2024. We extend our sincere gratitude to everyone who attended these sessions, representing a diverse range of perspectives and contributions.

    Whether you joined us in person at various locations or participated virtually, your input has been instrumental in shaping the OHRC’s Action Plan.

    Update: The call for submissions is now closed.

    The OHRC received written submissions between June 27 and September 30, 2023, providing insight on issues relating to anti-Black racism in Ontario’s publicly funded education system.

    Written submissions will directly support report findings and recommendations for the OHRC’s Action Plan.

    In October 2022, the OHRC established the Anti-Black Racism in Education Advisory Group to ensure that the OHRC’s initiative is informed by experts and community leaders from Black communities across Ontario. These individuals bring diverse backgrounds, experiences, and expertise related to the education system.

    What is the OHRC doing about anti-Black racism in education?

    The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is working to develop an Action Plan to tackle anti-Black racism in Ontario’s publicly-funded education system.

    Recent progress:

    The Ontario Human Rights Commission completed its province-wide community consultations on anti-Black racism in education on February 7, 2024. And completed our consultations with Duty-holders on June 24, 2024.

    Next Steps:

    Drafting our Action Plan is underway, with an anticipated release in early fall. Thank you for your invaluable contributions.

    When will the OHRC release the Action Plan to tackle anti-Black racism?

    The OHRC will release an action plan in 2024, with short and long-term goals and recommendations for implementation by duty-holders in the education sector, as well as community organizations and members of communities.

    Some community members and organizations have issued calls and petitions to launch a public inquiry. Why is the OHRC not launching a public inquiry?

    The OHRC recognizes there is systemic anti-Black racism in Ontario’s publicly-funded education system and acknowledges that the significant increase of hate in our society has exacerbated the crisis.

    The OHRC acknowledges the calls from community groups for an inquiry into anti-Black racism within Ontario school boards. It has also heard from Black communities that they do not need to be further studied and researched and has concluded that quick action and solutions are imperative.

    The OHRC undertook research on anti-Black racism in Ontario’s publicly-funded education system, which included 83 reports, and 190 recommendations, starting from 1948 onwards. That research indicated evidence of anti-Black racism in education, the impacts on right-holders, including students, families, and communities. The roundtable and current community involvement make it clear that the system is in a state of crisis and that targeted action to implement change, directed at key education duty-holders, does not require further study.

    What will the Action Plan achieve?

    The OHRC is committed to a comprehensive, Ontario-wide process that will hold all duty-holders accountable for tackling anti-Black racism in publicly-funded education systems.

    The outcome of this initiative will be an Action Plan, with identified short and long-term goals and recommendations to the Ministry of Education, school districts, school boards and trustees for actionable change in areas of practice, policy, and program implementation, to which they can be held accountable.

    What is the OHRC hearing from communities on these issues?

    The What We Heard report summarizes key points from two days of roundtable discussions with students and duty-holders in the education sector on how to address systemic discrimination in Ontario’s publicly-funded education system, and from victim impact statements. Some of the initial insights included:

    • the importance of having Black teachers represented in the education system to provide support and mentorship;
    • the need to create safe spaces where Black students can feel supported and included such as Black Student Associations and Unions;
    • the need for teachers to develop cultural competency, treat Black students sensitively, learn about their cultural backgrounds, and integrate Black history and achievements into various subjects;
    • the importance of celebrating Black identity, fostering Black joy, and promoting unity;
    • the need for comprehensive sensitivity training and anti-Black racism training for educators;
    • recognizing networking and building networks among teachers, parents, students, and community members, is essential to creating a supportive and inclusive educational system;
    • the importance of using data collection as a tool to advocate for systemic change;
    • the need for direct, concrete, and transparent accountability throughout the education system for addressing anti-Black racism;
    • the need for legislative and regulatory changes in the education system to address systemic issues and ensure accountability.

    How will the OHRC address regional differences?

    The issues and challenges faced by Black children, Black families, and Black educators vary across regions and school boards within Ontario.

    While different communities face various challenges, the issue of anti-Black racism in schools remains constant. The OHRC continues to engage with stakeholders and community groups across the province to hear various perspectives and learn about specific issues and concerns in different regions.

    Will the OHRC consider anti-Black racism in French-language school boards?

    Yes, the OHRC is reaching out to the Francophone community on this issue.

    The roundtable discussions held in April 2023 included French language educators and students. Community engagement sessions will also be held with Black Francophone communities to understand and integrate their perspectives in the development of the Action Plan.

    How will the OHRC hold government and duty-holders accountable?

    The outcome of this initiative will lead to recommendations on concrete and practical actions to effect change in educational practices, policies, and program implementation. The OHRC will share these recommendations with the public, as well as with the Ministry of Education, school districts, school boards, trustees, and unions.

    To ensure accountability, the OHRC will monitor duty-holders on the implementation of the recommendations. Active and comprehensive monitoring will also require the effort of many community organizations and individuals, including the broader public, to hold duty-holders in the education system accountable for improved outcomes for Black students and families.

    I think my human rights have been violated. What should I do?

    We do not deal with individual complaints (known as applications) at the OHRC.

    If you need human rights legal advice or help filing an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, contact the Ontario Human Rights Legal Support Centre at: 416-597-4900 or 1-866-625-5179 and speak with a Human Rights Advisor.

    To file an application directly with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario visit their website and follow the instructions for How to file an application.

    Learn more about Ontario’s Human Rights System.

    The OHRC has used its mandate in several ways to inquire into and address anti-Black racism in the education sector. Some recent activities include:

    • Called for written submissions to support development of the Action Plan. The OHRC received written submissions between June 27 and September 30, 2023, providing insight on issues relating to anti-Black racism in Ontario’s publicly funded education system.

    • Hosted roundtable discussions with Black students and education professionals to hear from them directly on issues of anti-Black racism in education.

    • Released a statement on Code obligations of education officials.

    • Wrote a letter to the Toronto District School Board on its Collaborative Approach to School and Community Safety Report, to remind the board that human rights principles and equity-seeking strategies must be used to ensure all students can benefit from a welcoming school environment.

    • Wrote a letter to the York Catholic District School Board  on its review of their School Resource Office and Values Influences and Peers programs, reminding the board to ensure that the Code-protected interests of all students are acknowledged and that values espoused by the Code shape the context of any student-officer engagement.

    • Released its Right to Read inquiry report in February 2022 on human rights issues affecting students with reading disabilities, including dyslexia.

      • The report resulted in findings that students experiencing various forms of marginalization, including Black students, are disproportionately represented in reading challenges.
      • The OHRC continues to monitor progress on the recommendations outlined in the report and engage with rights-holders and duty-holders on these matters.
    • Released its Framework for change to address systemic racism in policing, which calls for a provincial review of School Resource/Liaison Officer (SRO) programs as a necessary next step to make sure Black students consistently benefit from welcoming and inclusive learning environments.

    • Wrote a letter to the Minister of Education following the Ministry’s Peel District School Board review, noting that Black students in other communities face many of the same concerns about systemic racism that were cited in the review. The OHRC called on the Ministry to expand its directives beyond Peel region to other boards, and ensure redress for the historic experiences of Black students who faced systemic discrimination in the education system.

    • Made a submission to the Ministry of Education in 2018, based on census data showing achievement gaps for Black students and recommended systemic changes including making sure that learning environments are free from discrimination; creating equitable learning opportunities, assessments and outcomes; enhancing curriculum to include human rights content; and equipping educators to teach human rights.

    • Conducted community consultations on Black students’ experiences in the education system as part of its racial profiling consultation.

      • The resulting report, Under Suspicion, noted that Black students are more likely to be stereotyped as having behavioural difficulties or being threatening, and are more likely to experience harsher treatment, including higher rates of discipline, school calls to police, police stops, questioning and arrests.
      • Black students also reported facing low academic expectations from teachers, their academic achievements not being recognized, and being discouraged from fulfilling their educational potential.

      • In Under Suspicion, the OHRC called for leadership and organizational change strategies, new policies and procedures, anti-bias training, better communication and engagement with affected communities, and monitoring and accountability mechanisms, including data collection.

    • Conducted an inquiry into the over-representation of Black children in Ontario’s child welfare system, and in its report, Interrupted childhoods, found that professionals, including people employed in schools, over-report racialized families to child welfare authorities and that this may be linked to racial bias.

    • Initiated and resolved cases involving Black teachers who were denied promotions into positions of responsibility because of systemic anti-Black racism.
    • Initiated and resolved human rights complaints against various school boards and the Ministry of Education alleging that “safe schools” provisions of the Education Act and related strict discipline policies disproportionately affected racialized students and students with disabilities, resulting in higher rates of suspensions and expulsions.

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