Kingston school board prepares to tackle racism, barriers in classrooms – Kingston

Kingston school board prepares to tackle racism, barriers in classrooms - Kingston

The Limestone District School Board in Kingston, Ont., is rolling out a survey asking students’ families specific questions about their backgrounds, experiences and needs.

The board says the voluntary and confidential census is intended to identify potential barriers and or discriminatory biases that students from JK-Grade 12 face in the classroom.

One of the questions is “does your student ever feel unwelcome or uncomfortable at their school” — followed by a lengthy list of possible scenarios, such as a disability that they have, their family’s level of income, their race, cultural background, or skin colour, and so forth.

A list of questions can be found on the LDSB website.

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Shanika Turner, a parent of two mixed-race children, says the direct and specific questions allow families to express the challenges minority children face.

“I hope that things will change and become better,” said Turner. “A lot of the racism comes from misunderstanding and lack of education.”

Turner says many classrooms in Kingston are predominantly white, which has brought identity challenges for her Grade 7 daughter, one of which is the difference in hair.

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“We did her hair in two knots one morning, and we were driving to school, and she was getting more and more nervous as we got closer to school because she worried about what people would think of her hair.”

“Right before we got there, she asked me if I could just take it out, she’s like, ‘can you just take it out, please? Just take it out.’ It broke my heart.”

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It’s an example that the school board is hoping parents and students will share in the survey.

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As for how the questions were formed, the school board says the Ministry of Education identified the specific identity-based questions that boards need to include in the census. The LDSB says this action was included in the Ministry’s Ontario Equity Action Plan 2017 document as one of the goals that boards needed to accomplish.

The Kingston-area board intended to do the census last Spring but says it was cancelled due to COVID -19 and school closures.

The chair of the School Advisory Council and Indigenous Family Circle founder, Jennifer Kehoe, says parents should have been more involved in the question development process.

“I think [a student census] is valuable, and I think that it will serve our students in a good way, but I think it needs to be paused. I think it needs a little more reflection, a little more input, a little bit more community involvement,” said Kehoe.

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As for pinpointing the individual needs of students of colour, both Kehoe and Turner say it’s important in identifying systemic racism within the school structure. A message echoed by York University’s Senior Advisor on Equity and Representation and professor, Carl James.

“Too often, we are looking at the personal incidents of racism, the personal attitudes that people may have and avoiding the institutional structures and practice that are forming the systemic racism.”

James says schools need to include BIPOC voices in the classroom to change the historical narrative. He suggests adding a curriculum that includes BIPOC history.

“How do we understand the issue right now of anti-Black racism unless we understand slavery in the 1600s and what has happened in between the years of who came to Canada, when and why and how, of how we have incorporated Black people in the Canadian context.”

“If we don’t pay attention to that, you’re missing an important part of understanding what anti-Black racism is.”

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The Kingston-area school board intends to use the survey data collected to make informed decisions regarding resource allocation and programming that may be needed to support groups of students who are currently being underserved.

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A preliminary report is expected to be shared in the spring.

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