Media Notice: “Group wants anti-Black racism policy at Simcoe public board”

Group wants anti-Black racism policy at Simcoe public school board

Janis RamsaySimcoe.comFriday, June 11, 2021 

This is the first story in a series examining discrimination and diversity in the Simcoe County District School Board.

Whenever Barrie mom Natasha Shakespeare hears a school is having a “crazy hair day” she wants to cringe.

Shakespeare is a Black woman who founded Parents Against Racism Simcoe County, which recently brought a list of demands to the public board to create an anti-Black racism policy.

She knows there is an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) team at the board, but said it’s not enough. She wants Black parents to be included at the table when discussing curriculum, events and more.

One example is the crazy hair day, meant as a fun school activity.

“Someone has brought it to their attention that it is offensive and shouldn’t happen,” Shakespeare said.

She shared one school’s promotion, where an image was used of Black hair with braids, sticking out in different directions.

“Do they not see it’s problematic saying it’s creative to put your hair in braids? What if, for more than one group, that is a natural hairstyle?” Shakespeare said.

“We’re not saying (EDI) isn’t needed, but we’re faulting them because they’re not getting the full picture. Things are still happening … That is just one example.”

Shakespeare has also pointed out curriculum problems, like a teacher doing a hygiene lesson and unintentionally sharing misinformation with students.

“They might talk about washing your hair every one to two days. That isn’t specific to the Black community. That shares a lesson to students that is racist.”

And it opens the door for a student to be teased that they are dirty.

But training teachers in anti-Black racism isn’t enough, Shakespeare said.

An anti-Black racism policy, like the one at the York Region District School Board, must be put in place across the board, to help schools navigate issues that still arise, she said.

“These conversations can’t continue to happen without us at the table.”

She wants Black parents to be included in the board’s Parent Involvement Committee and be consulted when recommendations are going forward.

“We must lead these conversations,” she said. “We’re going to bat for our kids.”

Public board spokesperson Sarah Kekewich said the board knows work needs to be done, and it is focusing on educating students and staff on the injustice and impact of systemic racism.

They are hiring an external consultant with knowledge in the area of equity, diversity and inclusion.

“The consultant will be conducting a fulsome review of (board) policies, procedures and practices and will guide any needed next steps in terms of updates, revisions or additions.”

By Natasha Shakespeare

Activist. Community Organizer. Advocate. Mom. Champion.