At What Further Cost to Black Students?

Yvonne Sam

A recent, detailed purveyance of students’ school report cards painted a glaring portrait of indifference and irresponsibility regarding the academic experiences of Black students in Quebec’s elementary and secondary schools.
This display of indifference embraced a scarcity of access to appropriate reading materials, as well as a paucity of supportive teachers and administrators. The School Boards were certainly not meeting the educational needs and interests of the students. A failing grade was obvious.
Findings of conflicts, mismanagement and serious governance issues has now been corroborated by Quebec’s Education Minister Jean Francois Roberge in a recent report in which he called the allegations “serious and troubling.”
“The report states that some political interests are taking the place of the students’ interests,” he said. “The politicization of the governments of the school boards is causing pain to employees, teachers, principals and students, so it’s a huge problem.”
Further details from the final report included allegations of the irregular use of taxpayers’ money.
The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) was so grossly dysfunctional that the minister followed through on his previous suggestion to either strip the Board of its powers or place it under trusteeship. The latter was carried out. Fait accompli!
The English Montreal School Board is now under partial trusteeship by the Quebec government effective November 6, 2019. The task of sorting out how to restructure the EMSB administration will fall into the hands of former Liberal federal MP Marlene Jennings, an outspoken advocate for English schools and who represented the riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Lachine from 1997 to 2011.
For the next six months, by Cabinet decree, Jennings holds the powers the EMSB’s board of commissioners were stripped of, and has been mandated to produce a report detailing how the school board can improve its governance.
Next April Jennings will report back to the government and the government will determine whether the trusteeship should be renewed for a second six-months term. However, by then the future of school boards could be in doubt.
Additionally, the Education minister also announced that UPAC (Unité Permanente Anti-Corruption), Quebec’s anti-corruption unit, will look into the findings of the report to determine whether it should launch a formal investigation because of “irregularities and expenses that cannot be explained. Basically, the Unit will take the necessary actions.
Additionally, the government has named the firm Deloitte, one of the “Big Four” accounting organizations, to advise Jennings during the mandate.
The EMSB has been a vocal critic of the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) government throughout its first year in power, even accusing them of playing political games.
The Vice Chairman of the School Board further accused the government of going to extreme lengths to discredit the School Board. However, his lengthy public statement only served to give credence to the government’s claim that the Board’s fractious internal relations were taking away from its central mission of educating students.
In the midst of the ongoing brouhaha, the Education minister recognized that he is in a somewhat tenuous situation because the school board is suing Quebec over Bill 21, which bans teachers and some other public sector workers from wearing religious symbols at work.
The English Montreal School Board (EMSB), the largest English public school board in Quebec, was established on July 1, 1998 when the province created new boards, along linguistic lines. Quebec’s school system differs from those in the rest of Canada
In the report, the school commissioners also came under fire, as there was misunderstanding of their roles, leading to gross inaction in some cases.
Elected by the citizens, the role of school commissioner is an extremely important one. They determine the orientations of the school board, taking into consideration the interests of the students, parents and electors of their community. Already, schools within the system have been accused of not valuing, or bringing into play, the cultural and intellectual capital of Black students.
In conversations about their school life, Black students talked about disadvantageous treatment, as well as the open indifference and absence of attention to their needs, shown by both teachers and school administrators who said they observed the “streaming” of Black students into courses below their (ability) level, with some students being discouraged from going to CEGEP (Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel or in English, College of General and Vocation Education). They also observed more disciplinary punishment of Black students.
Such matters of contention lend support to estranging and controversial school days for Black students. None of this is new; it has been ongoing for years.
The report revealed some troubling and serious allegations” about irregularities in the awarding of contracts, related to vocational training.
According to the Education minister the board entered into partnerships with organizations that are not recognized by the Education ministry and which provide “substandard instruction.”
This latest report regarding the school board has given rise to parental concern, especially among Black parents who already hold the opinion that the current school environment in Quebec is somewhat estranged, making learning challenging and difficult.
To coin a well-known African proverb: “When elephants fight it is the grass that suffers.”
Basically, when two powerful beings clash, it is the powerless that suffer. Here the powerless is known, the Black students, thus an end should be put to the suffering.