By Akilah James (@ajxmesss)
In Ontario, Black children often face bitter experiences of anti-Black racism and oppression within our educational systems. This can see them pushed right out of the classroom and straight into the criminal justice system.
As this is an ongoing problem in Canada, a group of legal experts look to change that by launching a province wide research and advocacy initiative.
In January, The Black Legal Action Center (BLAC) launched the School-to-Prison Pipeline Project, which works to better understand and develop solutions to the criminalization of Black students in Ontario.
Tiffany Taylor - Provincial Anti-Black Racism Community Engagement Coordinator – BLAC, describes the term school-to-prison pipeline as “a process where students are essentially pushed out of schools and into prisons.”
According to Taylor: “Black children and youth are criminalized and this is carried out through disciplinary policies and practices that take place directly within schools and as a result, puts students in direct contact with law enforcement.”
The project primarily focuses on Toronto, Durham, Peel, York, Hamilton, Windsor, London and Kitchener-Waterloo areas, with some outreach in rural Ontario.
According to Jody Yaa Dunn – Provincial Anti-Black Racism and Justice Programs Manager, BLAC: “First we are really focused on bringing light to the experiences of Black youth across Ontario. Secondly, we are looking at how we educate our justice and education systems as well as educating our communities. Thirdly, we are focused on advocacy and policy reform.”
According to BLAC, 42% of Black students have been suspended at least once in high school. Black students are more likely to be streamlined into applied courses, which leads 53% of Black students in academic courses versus 80% of white students.
Black students are also seven times more likely to receive discriminatory treatment by teachers and 29 times more likely to experience discriminatory treatment by police at school.
The enactment of the Safe School Act in 2001 has had a significant impact on the lives of Black youth in Ontario and ultimately helped form the school-to-prison pipeline. The goal of the act was to limit bad behaviour in students by giving teachers the authority to suspend and expel students, as well as allow police involvement.
However, these disciplinary actions and police involvement within Ontario’s schools have proven ineffective and can eventually affect a student in terms of legal matters and overall development.
“When a student is not in school they can involve themselves in risky behaviours such as carrying weapons or fighting, and from that they can become less engaged in their communities and their schools. They are essentially labelled as deviant and become further criminalized,” adds Taylor.
“With time taken away from school and from being positively engaged with their peers and teachers, it creates a huge burden on a Black student's experience and it makes it much more difficult for them to move away from a negative path to a positive one.”
Dunn believes it is important to have initiatives such as the School-to-Prison Pipeline Project because Canada needs to come to terms with its treatment of Black people.
“When it comes to Canada we have a serious struggle with admitting that racism and oppression is a real thing within our communities. It has only been in the past few years that we are starting to get more exposure to this issue. We’re shedding light to a reality.”
Dunn also believes research done around the school-to-prison pipeline does not include much diversity, an issue they are trying to address.
“A lot of the research is very US driven. There is research in Canada but the majority only focuses on the GTA,” adds Dunn.
“That's why with this project, we’re really focused on looking at these eight regions and doing our best to dig into the rural communities to see the unique experience they are facing.”
Dunn and her team will host focus groups, as well as public legal education sessions focused on tools and resources for parents and young people. They are also working on an online resource hub aimed at connecting individuals with educational support. At the end, they will publish a final written report including recommendations for Ontario’s justice and education systems.
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