By MPP Toby Barrett

This July, the Ontario government announced bold changes to help break down barriers to success for Black students.
 
Some of these changes include eliminating discretionary suspensions for Kindergarten to Grade 3; destreaming curricula starting with Grade 9 math; and providing anti-discrimination professional development for the education sector. The government will also be strengthening sanctions for teachers who engage in racist behavior.
 
For too long, too many students in Ontario have been left behind. No longer can we sit idol. We are laying a foundation to set up all students for success in the classroom and beyond.
 
And the foundation we are laying is built on, what I consider, Ontario’s proud history of breaking down racial barriers.
 
In 1850, Haldimand-Norfolk native Egerton Ryerson – who would become known as Ontario’s Father of Education – acknowledged the need for equal schooling for Blacks, realizing the prejudice of the times. His Separate School Act permitted any group of five Black families to ask local public school trustees for such a school.
 
On Dec. 9 1850, Black families in Simcoe petitioned the municipal council of Norfolk County for funds and by 1852, with the help of Egerton Ryerson, were able to build their own school next to their church – the British Methodist Episcopal Church which, along with the Baptists, served the 300 members of Simcoe’s Black community.
 
The Town of Simcoe and Haldimand-Norfolk have a proud history of fighting anti-Black racism and discrimination, as do such Ontario notables as Egerton Ryerson.
 
Fast-forward to April 14, 2020, – the day our government passed an amendment to the Education Act to help ensure consistency, equity and fairness in the treatment of suspended students. More information about making Ontario schools safe and accepting can be found at Ontario.ca/safeschools.  Everyone has a role to play in promoting healthy relationships and contributing to a school climate of appropriate student behavior.
 
By September 2021, Ontario will begin the process of ending Grad 9 streaming. Students enrolled in applied courses are four times less likely to graduate, and 50 percent feel they do not belong in school. Only 33 percent graduate to go to college or university compared to 73 per cent of academic students.
 
To achieve a discrimination-free classroom, the Ministry of Education is encouraging the hiring of educators that reflect their classrooms and ensure a high standard of merit and diversity among teachers.
 
The ministry is working with unions and trustee associations to develop additional anti-racism and anti-discrimination training. Working with the College of Teachers, the government will publish a Professional Advisory for teachers, and will provide guidance in dealing with racist remarks or behavior. There also may be amendments to the Ontario College of Teachers Act to create clear, transparent and effective accountability and recourse measures.
 
The demographics of much of Ontario are changing rapidly and data collection – including race-based data – must change to better serve students and staff.  Every student, irrespective of the colour of their skin, faith, heritage and orientation, deserves the opportunity to succeed in the classroom.
 
Our aim is to unlock the full potential of every child. To ensure equal opportunity is a reality for all students that leads them to higher learning, better jobs and more positive futures.
 
Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk