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WCDSB to implement recommendations from review into removal of 4-year-old student by police

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The Waterloo Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) says it will immediately begin implementing some of the recommendations outlined in a review into the removal by police of a Black four-year-old student in November 2021.

The Waterloo Regional Police Service confirmed to CTV News they received a call from a school principal regarding a student “in crisis” at John Sweeney Catholic Elementary School, who was said to be acting violently.

Police said the student was placed in a safe and secure room and when officers arrived they began working with the child to de-escalate the situation. A family member was contacted and drove the student home.

The school board maintains its actions followed provincially established policies and procedures.

During Monday’s meeting, WCDSB Director of Education Loretta Notten said she disagreed with some of the facts outlines in the report.

“There would be some facts that we might wish to explore a little bit further. But as I say, we're willing to lean into the overall recommendations,” Notten said.

Notten would not say whether she thought the report was fair, but added 12 staff members were involved in the incident, which she says is uncommon and indicates the severity of the situation.

The director of education said the board will begin implementing some of the 14 recommendations made following the review, but some will require talking with the province and other parties involved.

“While there are some characterizations in the report that we might take issue with, we are more than willing to lean into the recommendations because the spirit of the recommendations is to lead us to a system that is less systemically racist,” Notten said.

LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY

Some meeting attendees felt the conversation never explored how parents of racialized kids feel.

“What went on tonight, it just shows me that we may not see that change that we're anticipating or hoping for, and it's just sad as a parent,” Fidelia Ukueje, President of Nigerians in the Region of Waterloo said.

“The parents at John Sweeney, they’ve been traumatized and we’ve talked to some of them in our positions,” Alice Penny, the Executive Director of Bring on the Sunshine said.

Penny said the board spoke about protecting teachers and the training that is needed, but she felt no discussion has included the rest of the school.

“Nobody is talking about, ‘did the school take action? Did the school sit down with black parents to make them feel better about it?’ They didn’t, and that tells me they’re not actually ready for meaningful change,” Penny said.

Notten could not confirm whether specific supports were offered to other students at the school, but said they are quite young and were not part of the scope of the review.

The board said it is looking to implement the recommendations as soon as possible and will provide an update within a year.

RESPONSE

Canadian advocacy group Parents of Black Children said they reached out to Education Minister Stephen Lecce in March, which ultimately prompted him to order the review.

Lecce previously said the review would be conducted by a third-party representative from the Ministry of Education, with a mandate to recommend actions to the board.

The details of the report have not been made public, but the submitted recommendations were published in the agenda for Monday’s WCDSB meeting.

Notten told CTV News on Friday that the findings were "a blueprint for further action." She said they highlighted a "critical support gap for students in crisis" which should be addressed by both the province and the school board.

She added that the board "deeply regrets the obvious hurt and distress cause to this young child in our care and to his family and the Black community."

MORE: Message from Loretta Notten

The Early Childhood Development Initiative has been working with the family.

"They feel a sense of sorrow, they feel fear," said Patricia Eno Falope, the organization's CEO. "It's very painful for the family to go through the systemic abuse that their child faced."

The group Parents of Black Children is also frustrated and they want to see further action against the school board.

"They went above and beyond to satisfy the narrative in their minds that they had about this child, a 4-year-old, a toddler, and criminalized the child," said co-founder Charline Grant.

"We're really happy to see the recommendations, but at the same time, at what cost?" asked Shilan Woldemariam,

Her organization, Black Parent Council KW, is hoping the school board listens to the feedback from the province and are held accountable.

She said the goal is to help the current generation and not just the future ones.

"Start thinking about racializing Black children in schools and considering their safety and their inclusion, but mostly, their equity," Woldemariam told CTV News.

RECOMMENDATIONS

In total, 14 recommendations have been outlined for the WCDSB along with five suggestions for the Ministry of Education.

The recommended actions to the WCDSB include:

  • Amend staff policies to ensure racism and forms of discrimination are subject to disciplinary measures
  • Review staff performance related to advancing human rights, anti-racism, and anti-discrimination; and hold senior level staff accountable for omissions found to perpetuate racism or discrimination
  • Hire Black and other para-professionals to consult, support and address student learning and behavioral concerns
  • Hire Black consultants to work with Black families to navigate special education, discipline, academic and well-being conversations and processes
  • Offer families accessible language around appeal process and access to supports for families
  • Hire and work with Black special education experts to address school identified behavioral concerns and support student learning needs. Include clear notifications, appeals and complaints procedures for families to access
  • Keep records to ensure timely relay of information to families whenever injury, holds, or significant escalations occur with students
  • Limit 911 services for kindergarten to Grade 3 as a last resort and include mutually-agreed upon time frame for when emergency supports will be engaged
  • Review and develop processes to ensure exclusion in kindergarten to Grade 3 does not negatively impact Black and other marginalized student groups
  • Develop a training plan for WCDSB superintendents and administrators leading up to, during, and following student exclusion
  • Develop a kindergarten registration/enrollment plan for families to discuss transition needs for students not entering from pre-kindergarten
  • Develop clear protocols to explain inclusion techniques, supports, timelines and appeal processes to families
  • Develop local policies and protocols around using containment/calming rooms
  • Mandatory professional learning, developed by Black and other racialized external experts, for administration and staff

The recommendations for the Ministry of Education include:

  • Develop provincial guidance for principals and vice-principals regarding 911 service intervention
  • Develop policy direction for a principal’s ability to exclude a person from a school or classroom
  • Amend provincial model for kindergarten to Grade 3 to limit 911 calls for ambulance service as a last resort
  • Require school boards to offer demographic data to the ministry, on exclusions to support provincial understanding, tracking and reporting on school and board use of exclusions
  • Require mandatory training for Ministry-School Board Liaisons when advising school boards on the use of student exclusions

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