Submitted by Justine Bell, OCDSB School Trustee for Somerset-Kitchissippi
There are some things that just can’t be put on hold during a pandemic. At the top of the list are human rights, like the right to education. We know that right is not an easy box to check off a list, even with your children in online, or in-person, school. Many steps have to be taken to identify and address the systemic and structural barriers that prevent everyone from participating in school, excelling and feeling valued.
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) acknowledges that oppression and discrimination still exist within our systems, structures, policies and practices. It shows up as racism and, more specifically, anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism; Islamophobia, antisemitism, and anti-Sikhism; ableism; sexism, transphobia and homophobia.
We know that we have disproportionate representation in our staffing and leadership structures; a curriculum that does not reflect the rich ethnic and cultural diversity of our student population; we have overrepresentation of Indigenous, Black, minoritized, 2SLGBTQ+ and special education students in discipline, including suspensions, expulsions, exclusions and interactions with the police. The list goes on.
In my short time on the board, I am proud to say these steps to disrupt and address the systems, structures, policies and practices: this important work has not ceased. Rather, it has accelerated because the inequalities that exist have been magnified by the pandemic. We cannot pretend anymore that it doesn’t exist. It is in all of our backyards and people are rightfully feeling empowered to speak out and act.
Through the “OCDSB Indigenous, Equity and Human Rights Roadmap 2020-2023,” we commit to deliberate actions; explicit milestones and actively engaging in an anti-oppression, anti-racism and human rights-based approach at all levels of organization to ensure that every student’s right to education is respected and realized.
What does this mean for your local school? Check out the Roadmap on the OCDSB website, and please reach out to me any time to discuss how we can work together and ensure that our rights are exercised. It takes a community.