BY: KATHY MCDONALD
The Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) held a town hall meeting on Thursday, November the 9th and despite the frigid cold, ice and rain, people came out to participate. Several key issues were discussed including education, policing, and community engagement. It was refreshing to hear the attendees offer a wide range of strategies, solutions, and perceptions of the best way to remedy the negative experiences often encountered by the Black and Caribbean community. One recurrent theme that frequently emerged was the need for the community to be seen and heard. Such a concept is often foreign to members of the Black and Caribbean community. Perhaps it is a product of colonialism or even the ever-present tentacles of slavery.
The pain and anguish of a young university graduate was ever present as she revealed how she was told that she could never attend university. She recalled having discussions with her friends that she met in university and they all had the same narrative “We were all told at some point in our secondary school years that we don’t belong in university”. She was relieved to hear about the Peel District School Boards (PDSB) We Rise Together Action Plan to help students in the Black community.
Stories of discrimination, oppression and any violations of the human right code always and must be documented. The stories are not to remain buried. Each infraction should be brought to the attention of the proper governing bodies be it teachers, principals or boards. Peoples of the Black and Caribbean community must not settle for status quo. Under the Human Rights Code of Ontario, the community has a right to a discrimination-free education. Quite simply put there is no justifiable reason to discriminate against a student. When you couple this with the teacher’s professional duty to care, parents need not be apologetic for advocating for their children’s needs.
I can confidently say that within the PDSB most of our staff are caring loving professionals that truly have all students best interests at the center of their practice. It is really mind-boggling the work and research as well as the accommodations and resources that goes into improving the educational outcomes for students. I can now confidently say that the PDSB truly are working to improve the outcomes for all students including our Black and Caribbean students. That being said we as a board will not be complacent. In fact the outgoing Director of Education, Tony Pontes said “I commit that we will act on this report – together. We will be unflinching in response to the findings, and not resort to defensiveness,” (Mr. Pontes was referring to the Peel board report entitled, Perspectives of Black Male Students in Secondary School).
Any teacher, administrator or staff member at the PDSB that negatively impact students by their actions or words will be held accountable. Parents, this is where you come in. You are the gatekeeper of sorts. If your child comes home and relates an incident that a racist or derogatory comment, in fact, any inappropriate comment is made to your child by a student or staff member, you, as your child’s guardian, have a duty to advocate for your child. Whether it means speaking with a staff member, principal, the superintendent or your trustee; you have a duty to advocate for your child. Remember regardless of the scenario, the board and its employees should not discriminate against you or your child.
So, parents, if a teacher declares a child is dumb because they are Black or tells another student they are not acting like an Indian child, you are obliged to speak up. (These are not random examples these are statements that have been recently been said to students). When important decisions are being made at the board table that potentially has life-changing consequences for your children, you must speak up. When promises are made and if you are not satisfied that they are being kept, do not despair, you must speak up. Do not become disengaged or apathetic, speak up. Hold us accountable. It is your right and your duty as a parent.
Most elementary students across the province went home with their progress report card today. Parents, this is the best opportunity to have meaningful conversations with your child’s teacher. Pay close attention to the comments made about your child’s strength and next steps for improvement. Read and reread the section regarding the learning skills and work habits. Discuss any concerns or areas for growth with the teacher. Establish what criteria you use to determine if your child is progressing with difficulty, progressing well or progressing very well. You may be surprised how subjective. such terms can be. Your child’s Individual Educational Plan (IEP) is a legal document. Read it. Remember attend when every possible all discussions pertaining to your child’s achievement.
Don’t only engage with the school when there is a problem. Be visible. Communicate via written correspondence, email or other electronic means if you are unable to physically go to the school. There are copious amounts of research that proves that a child’s outcome in school is enhanced by parent engagement. So, come on in and partner with your child’s school and school board as together they make all kids rise. So come and journey with me. Walk Good. Belle Marché.