The Ontario government announced new changes to the education system to eliminate suspensions for young students and end Grade 9 streaming.
The goal of the changes is to help break down barriers for Black, Indigenous, and racialized students.
On Thursday, Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that they will also strengthen sanctions for teachers who engage in behaviour of a racist nature, and provide teachers with additional anti-racism and anti-discrimination training.
“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 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.”
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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 in September.
Serious offences will still be subject to mandatory suspensions.
According to the province, 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 also begin the process of ending Grade 9 streaming into applied and academic courses.
Ford said that 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 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 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.”
In addition, the government will be improving sanctions for teachers who engage in 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.