Two provincial appointees who will review allegations of racism and dysfunction at the Peel public school board already have 130 interviews planned — and that number will grow, Education Minister Stephen Lecce says.
Suzanne Herbert and Ena Chadha will be “meeting with families affected, with school board officials, as well as with students,” Lecce told the Star on Monday. “That process will commence this week and they know this is a priority” for the government.
Last week, Lecce named the pair to probe troubles at the Peel District School Board, which has been dealing with complaints of anti-Black racism and deep divisions among trustees.
Herbert is a veteran public servant who conducted a similar probe of the York Region board in 2017. Chadha chairs the Human Rights Legal Support Centre and is a former vice-chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
Lecce was criticized in the legislature on Monday by New Democrat MPP Jill Andrew for not appointing someone from the Black community.
“Many in our Black communities were frustrated to hear that neither of the reviewers are Black,” said Andrew (Toronto-St. Paul’s).
“Parents, students and educators have been contacting our offices, concerned that this government is not taking anti-Black racism and discrimination in our schools seriously,” she said, adding that “the exclusion of Black reviewers … is shocking.”
Lecce said assistant deputy education minister Patrick Case — an equity specialist and award-winning lawyer who worked with Herbert on the York probe — is overseeing the review and recommended Herbert and Chadha.
Case, who is Black, has been leading the way and will ensure “that these boards end these practices and every child feels respected in Peel,” Lecce said.
“I will not tolerate systemic racism and that’s why we acted so quickly to launch a review.”
The reviewers will submit a preliminary report by Dec. 20, and a final report at the end of February.
“We want to make sure everyone’s voice is heard, but we have to move at a speed that doesn’t further frustrate families in Peel” who may feel government works too slowly or is unresponsive, Lecce said.
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Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter was the education minister when she appointed Herbert and Case to look at the trouble York board two years ago. She said Monday that bringing in reviewers is “an opportunity to dig deep and figure out what the issues are and more importantly, what the solutions are.”
However, she added, “the structure of that process is also important, so if parents and students feel that the appointment of the reviewers does not actually respect the issue of anti-Black racism, that’s a concern because you need their buy in and their co-operation to get at what the problem is, and how to solve it.”