WINDSOR, ONTARIO:. APRIL 14, 2021 - The Greater Essex County District School Board administration office is pictured on Wednesday, April 14, 2021.
WINDSOR, ONTARIO:. APRIL 14, 2021 – The Greater Essex County District School Board administration office is pictured on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

In June 2020, following the murder of George Floyd and calls for action from the Black Lives Matter movement, many groups, organizations and governments indicated change with respect to anti-Black racism was coming.

A year later, the needle has barely moved.

Just over a month ago, the Black Council of Windsor-Essex (BCWE) sent a letter to the Ministry of Education asking for a racial equity audit of the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB). The request is similar to similar to the 2019 provincial review of the Peel District School Board following allegations of anti-Black racism.

The racial equity audit request of the GECDSB comes after a year of the BCWE and other Black community organizations participated in several meetings with the school board following a June 17, 2020 motion to introduce an Anti-Racism policy to improve practices, yet in their view seeing little to no results.

It should be noted these meetings involved Black community leaders investing their own time to prepare resources and suggestions. To see those behind that effort feel like their time has been wasted in dealing with school board administrators can be perceived as a lack of interest in changing the status quo.

The request last month to the Ministry of Education for a racial equity audit included a statement about the board and its “long-standing history of lack of Black representation” in schools, the curriculum and in hiring processes which “continue to be influenced by racial bias, colonialist nepotism and anti-Black racism.”

It also noted how “Black children and youth feel alienated and pushed out facing disproportionate disciplinary action, the unjust practice of academic streaming and a toxic and dangerous environment that effects the mental health, self-esteem, and self worth.”

Black students and staff alike appear to be “devalued, dismissed and disenfranchised,” the request concluded.

The Greater Essex County school board is this area’s largest and includes the most diverse school population. It has a responsibility to ensure its students and staff feel safe within its doors.

By turning a blind eye to the possibility of micro and macroaggressions – or even blatant racism, in my view the school board is not meeting its mandate of providing equitable opportunities to each student and staff member.

It is not enough to simply celebrate diversity; meaningful action to support such measures is needed as a bare minimum.

Some will argue that it is 2021 — are we not past racism yet?

But the fault lines the pandemic cracked open and put on wide display over the past year and a half shows this is not the case. And not knowing our own history often means many will miss important pieces of context.

For example, Windsor-Essex County was the last area in Ontario to eliminate segregated schooling in 1965, according to historical documentation. That only happened 56 years ago. Students who attended those schools are still very much alive and living in our communities.

Yet over half a century later, the public school board has one Black elementary school principal and one Black high school principal — who was just recently announced.

Although cause for celebration for the individuals in question, it should raise serious systemic questions on the part of the school board with respect to its hiring, retention and promotion practices. If Black staff have been equally – if not more – qualified for promotion than some of their colleagues being promoted over them, the public school board may have questions to answer about its promotion process.

“Sincere effort by GECDSB to truly support change and forward action would mean consulting and working with community members who initiated contact, support and (provided) resources,” said Irene Moore Davis, a founding member of the BCWE and Black Women of Forward Action, during a presentation at the June 15th board meeting that can be viewed online.

“Throughout the last several months, up to and including June 8th, there was simply no mention of this (anti-racism) policy or the process of composing it.”

This illustrates the need for more difficult conversations which leads to real change.

It means taking the concerns of Black students, parents, and staff seriously. It means by meaningfully addressing anti-Black racism, such actions will also improve the culture within the local school board for its other racialized or marginalized students and staff.

The education system is an incredibly formative part of every child’s experience. Black students and staff deserve better.

It is critical our local school boards — among the many organizations and entities that are out there — most notably gets this right.

Sarah Mushtaq is a millennial who writes about race, gender and life in today’s changing world.

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