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Toronto District School Board to expunge suspension records: Can justice wait? | Marvin Zuker

Monday, November 30, 2020 @ 3:09 PM | By Marvin Zuker

Marvin Zuker %>
Marvin Zuker
A news release from Toronto District School Board (TDSB), dated Nov. 12, 2020, states in part: “Trustees with the Toronto District School Board have unanimously voted to expunge discretionary suspensions from the Ontario Student Record and Caring and Safe Schools Database of students who were suspended in Kindergarten to Grade 3.

“During their Regular Board meeting, Trustees also directed staff to identify systemic work that can be done to continue the Board’s commitment to addressing and interrupting bias and discrimination which may place certain groups of students at a disadvantage based on student discipline records in student Ontario Student Records (sic) including … .”

Ontario Regulation 440/20 states: “(1) A pupil in junior kindergarten or grade 1, 2 or 3 shall not be suspended under section 306 of the Act for engaging in an activity described in subsection 306(1) of the Act. (2) A pupil in junior kindergarten or grade 1, 2, or 3 shall not be suspended under section 310 of the Act for engaging in an activity described in subsection 310(1) of the Act unless the principal has conducted an investigation with respect to the allegations. (3) The condition set out in subparagraph 7.1 i of subsection 310(1) of the Act does not apply in respect of a suspension under section 310 of the Act of a pupil in junior kindergarten, kindergarten or grade 1, 2 or 3.”

Activities leading to a possible suspension are set out in s. 306 of the Education Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. E.2.

What is of additional importance relates to the “Notice of suspension” set out in s. 308 of the Act. Section 308(1) states that “a principal who suspends a pupil under s. 306 shall, (a) inform the pupil’s teacher of the suspension; and (b) make all reasonable efforts to inform the pupil’s parent or guardian of the suspension within 24 hours of the suspension being imposed … .” [Author’s emphasis.]

Under a subhead called “Quick facts,” the TDSB news release further states that: “According to the most recent Caring and Safe Schools Annual Report, 312 TDSB students between kindergarten [presumably no student in junior kindergarten?] and Grade 3 received suspensions in the 2018-2019 school year (approx. 8% of total number of suspensions). In the last two years, the number of suspensions and expulsions have dropped by 24%; expulsions have dropped by 53%.”

The TDSB website refers to a new open data webpage, “Increasing the TDSB’s transparency and accountability to the public.”

Unfortunately, the open data page tells us nothing about these 312 children. Statistics do not tell the story. What are the demographics of the 312; are they broken down by race, gender, children with disabilities? What were the children suspended for? What were the lengths of the suspensions? How many involved restraint and seclusion? Were police involved? Were parents notified?

Is this self-reporting data? Is there an equity audit?

Without answers we will simply continue to perpetrate historic racism.

The TDSB is the largest school board in Canada. It is supposed to collect and analyze data relating to race and student demographics. The TDSB 2018 Student and Parent Census Report indicates 29 per cent of students are white; 22 per cent are South Asian; 14 per cent are East Asian; 12 per cent are mixed and 11 per cent are Black.

Now tell us about those 312 children. Are they racialized? Are they identified as special needs students?

All school boards should be legislatively mandated to collect and report data annually and most importantly, make the data accessible to the public.

What is the government’s plan to support school boards to reduce the overuse of any practices that push our children out the door? Discipline data is a way to get a snapshot of how racism plays out in our schools. Incidents must be recorded. Otherwise we will have no objective way to measure the impact of discipline on the students.

Research suggests that implicit-bias training more often changes short-term knowledge about what diversity may be rather than providing long-term changes in behaviour. One- or two-day benefits are no benefits.

Staff training is only a part of what should be a comprehensive strategy to identify specific problems and to address the structures that perpetuate bias in our school systems.

Expunging the suspension record of a 4- or 5-year-old, with great respect, accomplishes next to nothing. How many of us have unconscious or “implicit” biases? It is called mental shorthand, behaving in one way and yet not explicitly espousing prejudice or prejudice ideology.

Data should be used to identify how to diversify our teachers and our staff by means of new hirings and how to work through our board policies around discipline and other issues that result in the disconnect that children may have with their teachers and schools.

Part of the solution is as simple as social accountability: having teachers discuss issues of discipline with other teachers and of course with the principal, who is the final authority. And it is about exposing educators to those who defy stereotypes. We must engage in ways that open the conversation, not close it.

The solution is about responding not through vague statements or press releases or gestures but by dismantling systems and dismantling a culture of punitive justice that harms all of our children. 

We should not only practise what we preach but also preach what we practise.

As a collective, educators must realize their power to challenge the status quo.

I could not say it any better than those before me.

Being white was never intended to be a weapon.

We must all work toward repairing the legacy of pervasive racial inequality, a long history of abuse as reflected more laterally by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, to name only a few.

“When we set out upon the search for truth, we should not assume that we already know for certain what truth is.”     
— Mary McLeod Bethune

Marvin Zuker was a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice, where he presided over the small claims, family and criminal courts from 1978 until his retirement in 2016. He is associate professor at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto, where he teaches education law. Zuker is the author and co-author of many books and publications, including The Law is Not for Women and The Law is (Not) for Kids.

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