Initiated by Shilan Woldameriem, Lena Thibeh, and Selam Debs, the Black Parent Council aims to unify parents' voices and demand action and accountability within the school boards.
One of the events that triggered the council's establishment was racially violent stories like a 4-year-old Black child in the Waterloo Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) having the police called on them and Black and Brown children allegedly being duct-taped at an elementary school in the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB).
In a statement, the Black Parent Council said, “Perhaps, what is most traumatic about being a Black parent at this moment, is witnessing our children experience the same harms we experienced and our parents experienced. The systems have not changed.”
The most upsetting thing for Brian Bernard, who has five daughters, aged seven to 25, who attend Waterloo region's schools, is that his family's experience is not unique. He knows many people who have been through similar experiences, and not only in the Waterloo region.
After hearing and conversing with the Black Parent Council, Bernard says they discovered that “these aren't isolated incidents.” Instead, parents within the Black Parent Council have noticed patterns and similarities in their experiences within family history. “We'd never had a real central way to express our problems to the school board. We've all been handling them kind of on our own, and we decided we need to consolidate our efforts,” says Bernard.
Bernard says that, in early grades, it begins with teasing about culturally visible things like lunches and clothing. “Even sitting in the classroom trying to learn and things that the curriculum is based around don't reflect your history or your experience in Canada. You're kind of forced to sit in the classroom and consume that and learn it.”
Bernard recalls when he questioned a teaching resource while he was in high school. “‘If you want to learn something different, then you got to create your own textbook,’” his history teacher told him. “There’s an understanding there that they know you’re unlikely to do that, you’re not in that power structure to do that. They want you to learn about history, even though it's a very white Eurocentric curriculum. Like nobody else has contributed to Canada or America's development.”
The Black Parent Council also brings to our attention the lack of staff representation within the WRDSB and WCDSB. Anecdotally, 90% of both WRDSB and WCDSB make up white administrative staff and teachers. “It is impossible for cis-hetero white teachers to understand or empathize with the lived experience and intersectionality of the communities they’re supposed to serve,” says the Black Parent Council. “And Black children continue to complete a K-12 education without ever being taught or experiencing a Black teacher or staff person.”
When raising their concerns, Black parents have gone through a lengthy process that leads to no updated or viable action or their concerns are initially dismissed outright. “I have always raised these issues in the school, because the way that I look at it, if they don't know about it, or you don't raise it, normally, they have a loophole that they can wiggle out of, and say ‘You didn't talk to anybody’ or ‘You didn't bring it to our attention,’” says Bernard. However, he also adds the importance of keeping a record as evidence later on.
“The ministry of education either believes that our communities deserve this level of violence or that systemic racism is pervasive within WRDSB and WCDSB,” says the Black Parent Council. As a result, they are demanding the following actions below to combat the ongoing racial discrimination and mistreatment of cases.
- Third-party investigation into all racial violence in WRDSB and WCDSB
- All issues reported to human rights to be investigated by a third party
- Third-party investigator to be an anti-racism consultant and/or culturally appropriate consultant (knowledgeable specifically in anti-Black racism)
- Investigate inequitable policies and procedures that are harming Black, Indigenous, racialized, Muslim and Queer students
- Development and implementation of anti-racism policy for both WRDSB and WCDSB
- Hire Black racial equity consultants to complete a full audit of both boards and best practices
- Investigation into how policies and procedures are applied when holding teachers and administrators who perpetuate racial violence accountable
- Increase funding for Child and Youth Workers(CYWs), Social Workers (SWs), psychologists and culturally responsive mental wellness supports
- Investigation into racially biased hiring procedures and practices
- Afro-centered and culturally responsive sources of knowledge
- Offer Saturday Afrocentric school for K-8 for African, Caribbean, and Black identifying (ACBi)