TORONTO — The Ontario government announced bold new changes to the education system that will help break down barriers for Black, Indigenous and racialized students and provide all students with an equal opportunity to succeed. As part of this action, the province will move forward with ending Grade 9 streaming into applied and academic courses, proposing to eliminate discretionary suspensions for students, strengthening sanctions for teachers who engage in behaviour of a racist nature, and providing teachers with additional anti-racism and anti-discrimination training.
Details were provided today by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, and Jamil Jivani, Ontario's Advocate for Community Opportunities.
"To help our young people reach their full potential, we have to start earlier to create equal opportunity for them, whether that's reforming suspensions for primary grades or ending the practice of streaming for Grade 9 students," said Premier Ford. "Above all, our government will not tolerate racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia or hate in any form in our schools. Through these initiatives to promote equality in education, we will ensure students from all walks of life are set up for lifelong success."
Through Bill 197, COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020, the government is proposing to eliminate discretionary suspensions for students from kindergarten up to Grade 3, beginning September 2020. Serious offences will still be subject to mandatory suspensions. The latest suspension data from 2018-19 shows that over 65,000 elementary and secondary students in Ontario were suspended during that school year.
Starting in September 2021, the government will begin the process of ending Grade 9 streaming into applied and academic courses. Currently, students enrolled in applied-level courses have multiple negative outcomes and limited opportunities for post-secondary advancement.
"Every student ― irrespective of the colour of their skin, faith, heritage, and orientation ― deserves every opportunity to succeed in the classroom," said Minister Lecce. "The transformational change we are driving forward will embolden a generation of students and unleash their full potential, absent the systemic barriers that hold them back. To racialized students in Ontario: we see you, and we value you. We will stand with all students on this journey to advance respect, dignity, and opportunity."
As part of its plan to end early streaming, the government will introduce a new foundational Grade 9 math course for September 2021 and will work with school boards as they transition students into a de-streamed Grade 9 math program. The de-streaming of the Grade 9 math curriculum is the first step towards further de-streaming in other curriculum areas, which will better support all students in having every opportunity to pursue the pathway of their choice after their K-12 education.
"We must recognize that today's changes are the result of our government and community members working together," said Jamil Jivani, Ontario's Advocate for Community Opportunities. "In particular, parents in Ontario's Black communities have been a powerful voice for change, providing their unique insights into how suspensions and streaming have disadvantaged black students. Thank you to every parent and community leader who engaged with us in this process."
To ensure students feel accepted in a discrimination-free classroom, the government will be strengthening sanctions for teachers who engage in the behaviour of a racist nature. Over the last 23 years, the Ontario College of Teachers reports that there have been 32 instances of teacher discipline for racist or homophobic behaviour or remarks.
The Ministry of Education has also proposed additional anti-racism and anti-discrimination training before the end of the calendar year. The government is currently consulting with teachers' federations, education workers' unions, and trustees' associations on the implementation of this critical initiative.
Through the Grants for Student Needs program (GSN), the Ministry of Education is providing a projected $40.9 million to help school boards implement suspension policies, including the hiring of professional staff and implementing prevention and intervention activities and programs. School boards will use this record-high allocation to support the implementation of the new suspension policies.
School boards can use portions of their $10 million in new mental health funding to provide students, educators, and staff with the resources and training needed to implement the new suspension policies.
The government has committed to providing $3.5 million to support the Black and Indigenous grad coach programs, which provide wrap-around supports for students who are at risk of not graduating.
On June 4, 2020, the government launched the Premier’s Council on Equality of Opportunity, a new advisory group that will provide advice on how young people can overcome social and economic barriers and achieve success.
In accordance with the Anti-Racism Act and Anti-Racism Data Standards, all school boards in Ontario will be required to collect race-based data by January 1, 2023.