Peel District School Board Review

December 30, 2019

The Honorable Stephen Lecce Minister of Education
438 University Ave, 5th Floor
Toronto Ontario M7A 1N3

Dear Minister Lecce:

Further to your request for an interim update regarding the Review of the Peel District School Board (“PDSB”), we submit this letter outlining our initial approach, a summary account of the stakeholders that we have communicated with, our preliminary observations of general themes arising out of these early discussions, and next steps.

Context of PDSB

The PDSB is the second largest English-speaking public school board in Ontario, and Canada, serving over 155,000 students in 257 schools (217 elementary and 42 secondary) across the municipalities of Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon. The school board is one of the largest employers in the Peel region, employing approximately 17,000 staff in academic and business positions. The PDSB is governed by 12 trustees who are elected for four-year terms as well as two student trustees who are elected annually.

The PDSB has a highly diverse student population. According to data from the most recent PDSB census, over 160 ethnic and cultural backgrounds are represented by PDSB secondary students. The top single racial backgrounds students self-identify with are South Asian (45.3%), White (16.8%), Black (10.2%), Middle Eastern (5.6%) and East Asian (5.4%). Further, 6.7% of secondary students identify with multiple racial backgrounds. Similar to the broader Peel Region, 0.7% of secondary students self- identified as First nations, Métis, Inuit or other Indigenous identity.

There are a number of equity initiatives at various stages of development and implementation in the PDSB, as well as various staff at different levels of the organization designated to these equity initiatives. These initiatives include We Rise Together, in support of the educational experiences of Black students, and The Journey Ahead, to promote equitable hiring and promotion. In addition, the PDSB has had a Human Rights and Equity Advisor in place since December 2018.

Initial Response to PDSB Review

We have experienced a positive reaction to the fact that the Review has been convened. All stakeholders, from students and parents to educators, staff, senior administrators, trustees and community members, have expressed consensus that the Review is a much- needed intervention to better understand the challenging and compounding dynamics operating within the PDSB and broader community. While there has been some skepticism, especially regarding the initial composition of the Review team, the PDSB community has welcomed the Review. People have told us that they expect that this Review will assist the PDSB to become more transparent and responsive in its commitment to provide inclusive learning and working environments where all students and staff feel respected. It is widely expected that the results of this Review will assist in establishing greater shared responsibility and enhanced accountability measures in upholding principles of equity and human rights at all levels of the PDSB and, in turn, lay a foundation for positive change through a comprehensive and durable approach to leadership, governance, human resources, anti-Black racism, and other forms of discrimination. Many members of the community have told us that they are seeking a transformative approach to addressing the gaps in educational and employment outcomes at the PDSB as well as improved board and community relations.

The response to the invitation to the public to participate in the Review has been strong. To date, we have received over 350 requests for interviews and written submissions by email, regular mail and telephone. In December, as we began the Review, we conducted over 30 interviews with individuals and groups, totaling over 50 people, in various locations in the Peel Region and Toronto. Some community members, particularly in the Black communities, have expressed concern about the process, suggesting that a more comprehensive, deeply consultative and conciliatory approach will reveal the problematic structural dynamics within the PDSB. In our view, the current approach will help to pinpoint the problematic structures and dynamics and establish new direction for the PDSB through the provision of recommendations to effect meaningful change within the PDSB. We are aware that this may not satisfy the desire within the community for deeper and more thorough consultations and truth-sharing, which we believe should take place under a renewed mandate.

What We Have Heard So Far

We have received written and oral submissions from many individuals and groups representing diverse perspectives on the issues within the scope of the Review. In addition, we have been reviewing various documentation, minutes of board meetings, board policies and data. We have consistently heard painful accounts of traumatic experiences in schools and school communities that speak to systemic and historical disparities between and across racial, ethnic and cultural groups with respect to access to programming, services, academic achievement, transitions to postsecondary education and the workforce, hiring, and promotion, as well as discipline measures both in education and employment. The narratives shared with us signal a profound lack of respect in relationships, demonstrated by stories of marginalization, discrimination, differential behavior, and harassment. To date, these sentiments relate to leadership, governance, human resources, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia and other forms of inequities put forward by students, parents, educators, staff, senior administrators, elected officials and community members who we have met with thus far.

Next Steps

We welcome the appointment of Shawn Richard to the Review team. This will enable us to strengthen our already robust approach to the Review. We have planned for 13 days of interviews, including evenings and weekends, in various locations in Brampton, Mississauga, Malton, Etobicoke and Toronto in January. Our enhanced approach to outreach also includes a number of facilitated consultations with students and parents.

Considering the urgency to complete this Review and the volume of requests to participate in the Review process, we will not be able meet with everyone who has expressed interest. All email applicants seeking an interview receive a reply message inviting them to file written submissions and, in that reply, we expressly confirm our commitment that every submission will be reviewed and considered by the Review team. We will meet with and listen to as many people as possible to formulate recommendations that we will submit to you in our final report at the end of the Review process.

Clearly, among its goals, the Review team wishes to make recommendations that will directly address identified barriers to student and staff progress and also contribute to establishing conditions for the PDSB to create, strengthen and sustain meaningful, transparent processes for community participation. The Reviewers believe that, in the post-Review period, a process that will allow community members to directly ‘speak their truth’ to trustees and senior staff is necessary for the PDSB to regain public confidence, that will be necessarily longer-term and that will be monitored by the Ministry.

Respectfully submitted,

Ena Chadha's signature

Ena Chadha
PDSB Reviewer

Suzanne Herbert's signature

Suzanne Herbert
PDSB Reviewer

Shawn Richard's signature

Shawn Richard
PDSB Reviewer