How 3 Canadians are fighting anti-Black racism in education

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Since the renewed Black Lives Matter protests that swept across North America last year, there's been a new fervour and energy in those working to combat anti-Black racism in Canadian schools.

Activists have staged protests to raise awareness of and decry the multi-layered obstacles and barriers Black children and teens face in school — everything from lessons that ignore Black history, perspectives and contributions to Black students disproportionately being disciplined to the ongoing practice of academic streaming from as early as kindergarten.

Against that backdrop, as well as a pandemic that has disproportionately affected predominantly Black and brown communities, some Black parents and educators are working within the system to support Black students in improving their academic achievements and to dispel racism in education. 

A mother of three with her eldest now in university, Charline Grant has learned a lot about the education system over the years. Now, she's also helping other families traverse kindergarten to Grade 12 schooling through her role as York Region system navigator for Parents of Black Children, an advocacy and support group north of Toronto. 

Her work entails mediating on issues like academic streaming, overpolicing, the lack of progressive discipline, withholding of supports and dismissal of parental concerns. The group also provides resources to improve cultural and ethnic representation as well as help for students being bullied.

Over the years, the Vaughan, Ont.-based Grant learned how to exert her rights as a parent to ask questions and advocate for her children.

"Part of it blows my mind to this day and I try to [share this with] parents all the time," she said. "Here are the questions you ask when you go in for the progress report. Here are questions you could look at [asking in regards to] your kids' report cards. Report cards can be changed. Report cards are not etched in stone. When an educator is saying X, Y and Z, you can ask them 'What supports do you have?' " 

For many Black families, existing wariness about whether they'll receive equitable treatment at school has been intensified by COVID-19, said Grant. 

One trend she's seen, for instance, is Black students being more harshly disciplined for wearing masks incorrectly. Other calls from parents have tapped into her experience on advocating for the help any student facing struggles, especially during a pandemic, deserves.

A family contacted Grant early this school year after being told their daughter was moving into a lower-level math course. During a call with the parents and an administrator, Grant inquired about the efforts made to bring the student up-to-speed, given rotating teacher strikes and in-person closures that disrupted the previous year, and why her parents were not consulted before administrators made the unilateral decision. 

"This happened on the Friday. By the Monday, the entire decision was reversed. You should have seen the amount of support that was rolling out for this family," she said.