The Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) will ask staff to consider 12 recommendations from the Black Parent Council KW to address racism in its schools following two incidents last fall that appear to highlight systemic racism in both local school boards.
“There are parents, caregivers and students who are hurting right now, and I appreciate the opportunity for staff to share how to move forward,” said trustee Karen Meissner at Monday night’s school board meeting where trustees voted in favour of a motion to refer the recommendations to staff for a report and recommendation.
The Black Parent Council KW, a group of parents and caregivers who advocate for children experiencing racism and violence, sent a letter to the Waterloo Region District School Board and the Waterloo Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) in March following incidents in two elementary schools in Kitchener.
In November, police were called to control a four-year-old Black student at a Catholic school in Kitchener.
A separate incident involved two children who were tied up with tape and left in a dark room at a public school in October.
As a result of that incident, a teacher was charged with assault.
The letter from the Black parent council states, “we as Black parents of the Waterloo region have come together to say, ‘enough is enough,’ Our children endure racial trauma, racial stress and identity-based harm on a daily basis in Waterloo Region’s schools.”
The recommendations include:
1. Third-party investigation into all racial violence in WRDSB and WCDSB
2. All issues reported to human rights to be investigated by a third party
3. Third-party investigator to be an anti-racism consultant and/or culturally appropriate consultant (knowledgeable in anti-black racism)
4. Investigate inequitable policies and procedures that harm Black, Indigenous, racialized, Muslim, and queer students
5. Development and implementation of antiracism policy for both WRDSB and WCDSB
6. Hire Black racial equity consultants to complete a full audit of both boards and best practices
7. Investigation into how policies and procedures are applied for teachers and administrators who perpetuate racial violence accountable.
8. Increase funding for CYWs, social workers, psychologists and culturally responsive mental wellness supports
9. Investigation into racially biased hiring procedures and practices
10. Afro-centered and culturally responsive sources of knowledge
11. Offer Saturday Afrocentric school for students in K-8
12. Removal of Mike Ramsay, Cindy Watson, principal of John Sweeney Catholic School and Loretta Notten, director of the Waterloo Catholic District School Board.
A final recommendation, calling for the removal of some trustees and staff was excluded from the motion.
“It is not in our authority to remove any trustee unless they are convicted of an indictable offence,” school board chair Scott Piatkowski said.
Deepa Ahluwalia, human rights and equity advisor at WRDSB called the motion "a starting point" and said the school board has been doing some preliminary research into what anti-racism policies exist in other boards.
Meetings with the Peel School Board on its anti-racism policy have already taken place, she said.
"This will help us to better understand their process and what works well,” Ahluwalia added.
Trustee Mike Ramsay said he wouldn't support the motion after hearing the rationale of his fellow school board colleagues.
“All this will do in my mind, will amount to the development of strategies related to race and not so much about helping people that need real help. I am saddened that my colleagues are inclined to feel that we need to pay people to tell them how racist they are,” Ramsay said.
Ramsay said all people face challenges regardless of identity and that strategies and programs should help support issues such as poverty in all communities, not just Black communities.
“Most of our conversations are about racism, not solutions. I want my colleagues to know this will not help the people who need real help. I am saddened that we are pretending that this represents the majority of the community where I am from,” Ramsay said.
Cambridge trustee Cindy Watson said we can all learn from each other.
“That is what education is all about. I believe that we should talk, and we should look at any recommendations that parents bring forward,” Watson said.
“We do need to support each and every student.”
Cambridge trustee Jayne Herring said she looks forward to hearing back from staff with some concrete suggestions.
“We do know that this community is dealing with a lot right now, and if there is a way that we can support and provide some clarity, and make some changes, we would be more than happy,” Herring said.