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Black students have assembled a report detailing their experience in Hamilton and made 11 recommendations they say must be urgently adopted by local boards and the province to address racism and concerns about safety in schools.
The document titled Community Safety and Well-Being Action Plan for Black Youth in Hamilton Schools is the result of eight Zoom sessions and five surveys that collected the input of 159 students, parents and caregivers.
“I think it’s pretty important because a lot of people have experienced racism and all these different things in school and they don’t have supports,” said Mikhail Jama.
The 15-year-old is a Grade 10 student at Westmount Secondary School.
He said his time at school has included “racist jokes,” adding the report is an important tool school boards can use to help students like himself.
Fifty-two students took part in Zoom sessions and 90 responded to surveys, along with 17 caregivers.
The report found just over 95 per cent of students with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) who participated said they’d experienced racism and roughly 90 per cent felt unsafe in schools.
For the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, those numbers were 76 per cent and 60 per cent respectively.
IMPORTANT THREAD 🧵<br><br>Hamilton Students for Justice (HS4J) and <a href=”https://twitter.com/HCCI1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@HCCI1</a> are honoured to have been able to publicly present the results from our Community Safety and Wellbeing Action Plan for Black Youth in Hamilton Schools this morning. (1/7) <a href=”https://t.co/zw55NKrKL9″>pic.twitter.com/zw55NKrKL9</a>
“Black students are saying that, obviously, things aren’t OK in their schools and something needs to be done,” said Layla El-Dakhakhni, a member of Hamilton Students for Justice (HS4J).
The group helped put together the report, along with the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI).
“Black students are making this very earnest effort to address things in their schools, it’s not just happening and people are being quiet about it, and schools boards are not responding to that in a way that’s effective,” El-Dakhakhni said.
The report makes the following 11 recommendations:
The organizations are calling for some of the recommendations to be applied immediately, with others to be in place by the beginning of the 2022 school year or the winter semester in 2023.
Some boards have already taken some of the recommended steps, including the HWDSB which last year voted to terminate the liaison program that put police officers in schools.
Board, ministry studying report
The ministry of education, HWDSB and HWCDSB are all reviewing the recommendations.
A statement from education minister Stephen Lecce included in a media release from HS4J and HCCI about the report said the work to combat “anti-Black and systemic racism in Ontario schools” must continue.
“From … ending discretionary suspensions for our youngest learners, to a zero tolerance-policy against staff who make racist remarks and the abolition of regulation 274 to finally enable the hiring and promotion of more diverse and qualified educators, we will continue to drive change to best support student safety and success,” Lecce said.
In an email to CBC, Hamilton’s public school board said it’s listening to Black students and recognizes brining forward stories of trauma is difficult.
The HWDSB is working on an equity action plan that includes “some of the action items” in the recommendations such as hiring and allowing Black cultural clothing, said spokesperson Robert Faulkner in an email.
“We are in the process of developing a human rights policy and an Anti-Black racism policy,” he wrote. “We hope that Black students and communities will fully participate to co-develop these policies to continue to identify and address barriers.”
Representatives of Hamilton’s Catholic board were present when the report’s findings were shared.
The HWCDSB “remains committed to listening and learning from those who experience racism and doing all we can to eradicate racism and ensure that our schools are safe,” said Chair Pat Daly.
Report calls for urgent action
Faulkner said it’s “premature” to set a timeline for enacting the recommendations, citing the need to carefully consider them and the support provided by the ministry of education.
But El-Dakhakhni stressed the urgency of the report and the need to take action.
“There’s so much that school boards can do today, tomorrow, next week that will immediately make a lot of things better for Black students,” she said.
“If school boards valued Black students and understood all the harm that’s coming onto Black students every single day … these would not be unrealistic timelines.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
This content was originally published here.