A month-long project exploring the experiences of black students in Hamilton found that the vast majority of young people who responded said they had experienced racism in school.
Funded by the Ontario Ministry of Education, community safety and well-being action plan included eight Zoom consultation sessions and five surveys, with extensive participation to black youth between July and September.
The report, released Wednesday, was briefed by 159 black students and caregivers who spoke about anti-black racism in schools, safety in schools and the impact of the pandemic on black students.
“A black student victim of racism, a black student victim of targeted and punitive disciplinary measures, a black student struggling with disproportionate health problems during the pandemic is one student too many,” said former school counselor Ahona Mehdi, who helped create Hamilton Students For Justice, who worked on the report with the Hamilton Center For Civic Inclusion.
“These are young black students who deserve to have grown up in an education system free from anti-black criminalization, systemic racism and trauma.”
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About 95% of respondent students from the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) and 76% of respondent students from the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board (HWCDSB) reported experiencing racism at school.
The sessions and surveys were also open to black youth in French-language schools funded by the state of Hamilton.
Experiences detailed by respondents included being the victim of racist slurs and hate speech from students and staff, being overdisciplined and supervisory, racial profiling of police liaison officers stationed in schools, a lack of support during the pandemic, and obstacles to attempting to report anti-black racism.
Yammy Peter, a former student of St. Thomas More Catholic High School, recalled being targeted while trying to attend school wearing a durag.
“I was considered a gang member for even trying to wear a durag inside my school, which makes me uncomfortable,… being the victim of racial profiling as a that gang member just because I want to take care of my hair. “
The report lists eleven recommendations for publicly funded school boards, as well as the Department of Education, allowing black students to wear cultural clothing, including durags.
The dress code for students has been under review at HWDSB since a dress code announcement at a high school in Waterdown sparked protests and protests from students feeling unfairly targeted amid a sexual assault investigation.
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Manny Figueiredo, director of education for HWDSB, said he supports the recommendations and appreciates that a timeline for their implementation is included.
“It allows us to really work with our board to say, okay, look at our current equity action plan, where we are aligned, where are there gaps? “
He also said some of the recommendations – like changing the dress code and hiring more black staff – can be implemented locally, but others will need help from the provincial government.
Pat Daly, chairman of the HWCSB, said the Catholic council will consider how the report’s recommendations align with the 22 recommendations of its own anti-racism education committee that it is already working on implementing.
“We’re going to want to carefully review the report and… consider it as part of the other recommendations emanating from the committee we’ve created. But we will study it very carefully.
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The recommendations also include a call for other Ontario boards to follow the example of the HWDSB and get rid of police liaison officers in schools.
Hamilton Students For Justice member Layla El-Dakhakhni said each council has a lot of work to do, including public council.
“Just because the HWDSB has taken preliminary action, it says a lot that there are statistics in our report that show that HWDSB students still experience the most racism in their schools. “
In a statement accompanying the report’s release, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the province would continue to “directly confront anti-Black and systemic racism in Ontario schools.”
An email from a spokesperson for the Education Department added that they would review the report’s recommendations and “continue work to better support student safety and tackle anti-black racism.”
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