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Ontario School Boards can do this to further help Black and Indigenous Students: Will They?

Updated: Apr 8, 2021

The Peel District School Board (“PDSB”) will intentionally hire more Black and Indigenous teachers in an attempt to provide more representation for students from these historically disenfranchised communities. 

The plight of Black and Indigenous students has been crystallized over the years by overwhelming research showing lower rates of graduation. Yet, John Hopkins University, for example, found that the probability of low-income black students dropping out of school is reduced by 29% if the student has just one black teacher in elementary school. With this understanding, a motion was made to embark on a targeted recruitment initiative to hire teachers from these communities. 

This hiring practice that singles out applicants by race has the trademarks of discrimination.

My response: so what

Discrimination is not always the same and not always wrong. It is like fire: in some contexts, fire provides warmth and sustains life, while in others, it destroys. To say that all discrimination is wrong is a failure to appreciate the context in which it occurs. 

And the law would agree. 

Special Programming

If discrimination is akin to fire, then the purpose of PDSB targeting teachers from a particular community would be to provide warmth and sustain life. 

While the practice recruits teachers from specific communities, the purpose is not for the benefit of the employee, but rather the student. 

And that is the genius behind the motion. 

PDSB Board Member Kathy Mcdonald makes it clear that this move is about setting practices in place to address the unique issues faced by specific communities — a nuanced point that may be missed by many critics. It is this distinction that allows the board to create what the Ontario Human Rights Code (“the Code”) refers to as special programming

Section 14 of the Code allows for programs designed to help people who experience hardship, economic disadvantage, inequality or discrimination. The dual purpose of section 14 is to protect affirmative action programs and to promote equality. 

Thus, section 14 does two things. First, where programming is designed to address a particularly disadvantaged group, it is protected from challenges of those outside of that group and who do not suffer the same disadvantage. Second, it is meant to enable or assist disadvantaged persons in attaining the same level of enjoyment of life as those who do not have that disadvantage. 

PDSB’s special program targets specific hires to address inequality and discrimination that established research has shown to exist in the school system. For Black and Indigenous students, seeing themselves represented at an institutional level is a known solution to reducing the barriers to success that some of their peers may not face. 

Ontario School Boards

This targeted practice may be discriminatory, but the Code provides a lawful exemption. Not all acts of discrimination are equal, and in the right context, discrimination may even be used as a tool for equity. School boards have all the tools they need to ensure all students can achieve the success they are capable of. 

So, with research and law on the side of students, how can Ontario school boards continue to reduce barriers for Black and Indigenous students? 

Hire more people who look like them. 

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