Toronto District Muslim Education Assembly
Sound Education Sound Society
SENT BY FAX
Submission to the Education Improvement Commission (EIC)
for the Area Review Committee
August 14, 1999
Dear Mr. Cook ,
As you may be aware, TDMEA was deliberately excluded from the selection list, although we participated in the restructuring process of the education system.. TDMEA was also denied information from TDSB which was rightfully requested.
We would like to thank and express our great appreciation for giving TDMEA the opportunity to speak before the area review committee members, on August 10,1999. Following is a more detailed submission in the restructuring process of the Education System in the new amalgamated City of Toronto.
TDMEA is a city-wide coalition which represents the majority of the Muslim community. Some of its members are active in different school councils. Also, we work cooperatively with various faith and visible minority groups, which share similar concerns and issues regarding the education system.
TDSB has been operating since January 1, 1998. The amalgamation has been a challenging experience for everyone involved. We must admit that a city such as Toronto needs lots of effort and work to harmonize programs and policies from the six previous boards. The transition process was a difficult and overwhelming experience, considering the size, the funding formula, and the diversity of Toronto. TDSB did a good job in convincing the majority of the public to believe that all problems we encounter are caused by the Ministry’s Funding Formula and the Education Reform.
Whereas, staff in schools encouraged the students and kept them busy writing letters to their MPPs requesting that schools not be closed, instead of focusing on the students education. Politics and elections played a major role and focus during the restructuring at all levels, that was very evident through their communication ways and means.
The TDSB caused unnecessary fear and confusions to the public when they announced the premature closure of schools and the cuts to programs, instead of eliminating excess space and duplicate positions in areas of administrative staff. Moreover, TDSB made cuts in areas that will affect students directly in the coming year, such as: transportation, ESL teachers, international programs, continuing education programs, public health nurses, etc.
From our involvement in the Toronto Board, we would like to recommend the following:
Trustees could benefit from a raise to be more effective. Some funding should be made available for transportation, settlement workers, ESL teachers, and professional development at all levels, including training for parents who choose to be active in school councils. Advisors/guidance counselors from the visible minorities is essential in order to meet the children’s needs ( role models ) and provide a positive learning environment.
TDSB-Community relations and communications need an immediate and serious attention. Communities in Toronto, especially faith and visible minorities, do not feel a sense of ownership. Parents’ and faith communities’ input is not being valued despite TDSB claim. Their role is being considered an ‘advisory’ one instead of "part-of-the-decision-making" . This is true for school council members at all levels of the education system. This board’s attitude and procedure must change. Parent and community representative roles ought to be clearly defined and understood by the administration and staff as share-holders rather than mere advisors.
Despite the TDSB’s attempt to meet the challenges ahead in the new organization’s vision and mission to eliminate barriers and systemic discrimination, the end result so far is still very much the same. Overall practices and attitudes from the former boards are still in effect. We strongly believe that the underlying systemic discrimination cannot be rectified by throwing more money at the system, nor by formulating politically correct policies/statements without a fundamental change in people’s attitude coupled by full implementation; our children will have emotional and psychological scars for life!
Significant groups from our society have been excluded, mislead, mishandled, deceived and given unclear mandates regarding new policy developments and harmonization. Their concerns have been ignored and they were denied full participation regarding their children’s education. Moreover, their viewpoints were undermined due to stereotyping, and lack of proper presentation on committees that develop board’s policies, and make vital decisions that will affect our children’s education and well being.
For example, some of these policies which have been developed ‘behind the scenes’ without consultation or public input such as the "sexual orientation policy" will definitely affect our children one way or another.
In addition, TDSB’s "Equity in Education Foundation Statement", which intends to govern all board’s policies was developed mainly by former Toronto board staff, gay communities, pro-gay individuals, and a very minimal number of community members who felt helpless and frustrated after having to force themselves onto that committee, deceived about the mandate and lack of clarification (What was the "Equity in Education Foundation Statement" originally intended for? And, What affect does it have on other mandated policies, such as the "Antiracism and Ethnocultural Draft Policy"?).
TDSB needs to be reminded of the underlying principals of policy development, procedures and practices that do not discriminate against faith and visible minority groups, as well as the vital role of parents, while keeping in mind all the students’ needs, without promoting one group’s right over another, especially when the TDSB promote issues that intervene with family morals, values and beliefs. In addition, it is the parents’ right to decide what values and morally acceptable practices their children should learn, it is not the school board’s responsibility to make that decision for our kids and what the children should learn or not.
All board policies that have been developed or harmonized should be put for public consultation, especially the "sexual orientation policy" and the "Equity in Education Foundation Statement" so that the public will be informed of the changes and their impact on the education system. In addition, faith and visible minority groups strongly feel that it is necessary to have an "Antiracism and Ethnocultural Committee" in place to monitor and ensure implementation of that policy. A harmonized "Contagious Disease Policy" should be in place and implemented ASAP.
Moreover, all school boards in Ontario need to have a "Universal Code of Conduct and Ethics" as an integral part of the curriculum for students and staff with enforced implementation from kindergarten to high school. Such code will serve as a foundation block in the continuing fight against crime and gangs in our society. The Ministry of Education should have a policy to remove the teaching of materials that are not facts, biased, or misleading, such as the theory of evolution; such material is discriminate and offensive to religious group(s) and to science itself.
TDSB should look into different strategies for effective communication with parents and communities. TDSB must truly involve parents and communities, without discrimination, especially recruiting individuals and guidance counselors with positions at all levels to reflect the diverse communities it serves. That will promote positive communication and understanding of the various cultures, in order to meet all the children’s needs.
For example, a guidance counselor told a student, when he expressed interest to be a journalist, that he cannot be so because, firstly he is a Somali, and second he is a Muslim. Another example from last June, three kids from visible minority groups were suspended unjustly because the staff failed to acknowledge the language barrier. When the parents raised their concerns they were ignored and ridiculed by the staff and administration.
Due to discrimination and lack of understanding of various cultures, many teachers and guidance counselors in TDSB are not qualified to have such positions because some provide the wrong advice academically and culturally. This area should be seriously investigated.
Developing sound policies alone, without implementation and commitment amounts to a waste of public money and perpetuates the problem of discrimination, while promoting deep resentment in the society. In the end it will cost us our kids; our future!
In conclusion, these fundamental issues and concerns contribute to the child’s molding personality, identity, attitude, and how the child perceives the world around her/himself. The whole school environment, society, people-conduct and human relations, affect children’s education, achievements, successes and well being. If TDMEA is seen as an "ally and not an adversary" to TDSB, I am confident we can establish a healthy partnership that can work for the benefit for all our students within our public educational system. It is my hope this submission is a first step in that direction.
Thank you once again for your understanding and cooperation. Should the Commission have any questions or further clarification from our Assembly, the TDMEA would be more than happy to assist the EIC in its mandate to improve the education system.