Following a spate of racist incidents involving Black, Indigenous, and racialized students in Waterloo Region and across Ontario, MPP Laura Mae Lindo held a virtual press conference to discuss the issue with local community leaders. 

Lindo was joined by Marcia Smellie, a member of the Congress of Black Women’s local chapter, and Maedith Radlein, a member of the school board’s Equity and Inclusion Advisory Group and co-convener of the Region of Waterloo’s anti-racism advisory group. Both are retired educators and respected members in the Black community. 

“Good morning,” Smellie began in her address, “I am saddened and frustrated to be here this morning.” The three of them organized the discussion in response to a racist incident at Alpine Public School in Kitchener that made local news. 

A Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) teacher was alleged to have used masking tape to tie up two students, one Black and the other racialized, and left them in a dark room as punishment for having moved their desks. Both the Waterloo Regional Police and Family and Child Services of Waterloo Region are investigating the incident.

“To have your child come home from school and maybe not tell you anything, and it’s the school principal that calls and tells you that something transpired at school, that is absolutely outrageous,” Smellie said. Radlein echoed this sentiment and asked how this could happen to children.

“That teacher would not have done that to any child in their family,” Radlein said. “They would not have done that to any child of a colleague.” 

Lindo said that the attempt by the government to address the systemic nature of racism within our schools has largely failed, as evidenced by the rise of stories about racism and discrimination in schools across Ontario. 

She brought up another pair of incidents that have occurred recently. One involved a young Indigenous child being denied bathroom access by a WRDSB teacher, another involved a Toronto District School Board teacher showing up in the classroom wearing blackface.

“A lot of racialized students are pushed out of the system and it’s through these … examples of racism, as well as more violent and traumatizing forms of racism, that this push-out continues to happen,” Lindo said. She also voiced concern around racist educators being shuffled around to other districts in order to avoid addressing the problem.

Speaking also as the NDP critic of anti-racism, Lindo pointed out that the existing legislation, notably the Anti-racism Act of 2017 brought in under the Liberal government, does not define racism, anti-racism, or racial equity. “If there’s no definition, then there is no way to hold anyone accountable,” Lindo argued. 

Lindo is expected to table a private member’s bill, calling for language defining racism, anti-racism and racial equity be inserted into all legislation that governs education from kindergarten through grade 12, as well as post-secondary. That private member bill also called for:

  • The province to perform an equity audit of schools, which would include collecting stories of racist incidents from students, teachers, and staff
  • Collecting disaggregated race-based data on everyone in the school system (there’s currently only data on student populations, but none in regards to leadership);
  • A specific budget line dedicated to combating racism.

Lindo noted that any mandates from provincial legislation will not have an impact “unless there is a budget line item that requires the ministers and the government to take seriously the investment that’s needed in education to train educators to ensure safety to ensure accountability to ensure transparency.”

There was also a broad call for better and more culturally responsive mental health support for students. Following these instances of racism, Lindo said that students need proper support during this time. insideWaterloo has requested details from WRDSB on exactly what, if any, supports are being offered to students impacted by what happened.

A spokesperson replied, saying that due to confidentiality, they cannot discuss the particulars of what happened at Alpine Public school. However, other students and families who may be traumatized by the news are being encouraged to reach out to their child’s teacher and can speak with their school administrator and/or guidance department. The spokesperson also noted that each school has access to a designated school social worker and psychologist through a referral process, but if families are still worried about their child, they should ask for help from a healthcare professional.

When Premier Doug Ford took office in 2018 the Conservative government made drastic cuts to the Anti-Racism Directorate, which was previously installed by the Liberal government. The directorate’s subcommittees were all summarily dismissed by the Ford government, which also reduced the directorate’s budget line to just $1000.

“I don’t think it’s fair to leave it upon their shoulders to address racism in their educational institutions,” Lindo said of students. “I think that we as leaders in community have a responsibility to our students, to our young people, to ensure that their learning environments are safe.”

In addition to Lindo’s private member’s bill, GroundUp WR and the African, Caribbean and Black Network of Waterloo Region have partnered on a legislative petition to address anti-Black racism in schools.