The Durham Catholic District School Board (DCDSB) is continuing to develop policies around equity and inclusion, with a focus on anti-Black racism.
It comes after calls from students to change the manner in which complaints pertaining to equity and racism are handled and investigated.
The board says it will be presenting an anti-racism policy at an upcoming board policy meeting on March 8.
According to its website, the policy will “encompass a clear process for the resolution or escalation of equity-related issues/concerns for both students and staff. We are also working to revise student investigation protocols to include elements specifically related to racism and discrimination.”
The policy is one of several recommendations part of the board’s 2021 ‘Action Plan.’ Other suggestions that are being looked at include anti-racism training for staff at all levels, a new hiring policy to to develop a diverse and representative workforce, with a focus on hiring Black educators and professionals,” and the creation of an advisory committee that will focus on anti-Black racism and “the illumination of Black Excellence with broad parent and community representation will support and help co-ordinate school and system-level engagement, and internal accountability for addressing issues of systemic barriers.”
“It is necessary for us to embark on a very vigorous anti-racism, particularly anti-Black racism strategy,” said Margaret Brimpong, the board’s senior manager of equity, anti-racism and engagement.
“Anti-Black racism is structurally embedded and needs to be rooted out. Black and racialized talent have been excluded from spheres of excellence, employment, recognition of their achievements.”
For former DCDSB student Joshua Telemaque, it’s an experience that is all too familiar.
Last October, a tribute to Telemaque’s late grandmother that was supposed to be printed alongside his photo in his high school yearbook was replaced with a racist message.
“It was very heartbreaking and hard on me and my family,” Telemaque told Global News.
“It’s just something that will stick with me throughout life.”
The former student says he particularly would like to see the hiring of more Black teachers and counsellors in order to “help give students a type of feeling, some type of understanding, and also help other students who are not aware of certain cultures and backgrounds, (in order to) have a better understanding and knowledge, so that we treat each other the way we want to be treated.”
He adds there needs to be heightened penalizing for those held responsible for acts of racism.
“There needs to be more punishments,” he said.
“They need to know it’s not right.”
When asked if the board currently tracks the number of complaints related to racism, its superintendent of education, Susie Lee-Fernandes, told Global News, “We are not tracking that data.
“That is something that we are looking at along with our student census, to be able to monitor the data.”
In 2020, DCDSB the student senate also made requests to alter the board’s uniform policy. The students requested cultural accessories that were banned, including items more commonly used by Black students, be permitted.
Following this proposal, the board held numerous consultations with its community partners, students and parents.
“There was a lot of diverse viewpoints on allowing hair accessories,” Lee-Fernandes said.
“Based on the engagement and the input we received from our parents, guardians and our community members, we are not moving forward with changing our dress-code policy at this time.”
Telemaque says he disagrees with this approach, adding, “Once you have your own culture, it’s hard to not do the things that you’re accustomed (to).”
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