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.
Over the coming months, the OHRC plans to examine and address these issues by:
- engaging with community groups and organizations
- researching leading practices
- consulting with the education sector
- monitoring issues
- developing an action plan to empower and hold duty-holders accountable.
The OHRC plans to release an action plan to help combat anti-Black racism in education and hold duty-holders accountable and will have practical guidance in the hands of the education sector within the next school year.
OHRC actions to date
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:
- 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 in, 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.
Letter to the community on anti-Black racism in education