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Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce speaks during the daily update on COVID-19 at Queen's Park in Toronto on Tuesday, June 9, 2020. Ontario says it will end streaming in Grade 9, a practice critics have called discriminatory towards racialized students.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Ontario plans to end streaming in Grade 9, a practice where high-school students must choose to pursue an academic or applied track and that has been criticized for sidelining a disproportionate number of Black and disadvantaged students.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce will announce the changes in the coming days, which will also include a ban on suspending elementary-school children and efforts to increase diversity in the education sector.

“It is clear there is systemic discrimination built within the education system, whether it be streaming of racialized students, suspensions overwhelmingly targeting Black and Indigenous kids, or the lack of merit-based diversity within our education work force,” Mr. Lecce said in a statement on Monday. He added that the government will move “quickly and decisively to combat systemic racism” so that children can succeed.

Ontario is the only province that divides students as they enter high school into the hands-on applied stream or an academic track that sets them on the path for postsecondary studies. Research has shown students from low-income families, with Indigenous backgrounds or with special needs are more likely to be enrolled in the applied stream and are 4½ times more likely not to earn a diploma compared with their peers in the academic stream.

The government said that streaming will end for Grade 9 students, although it won’t be fully implemented in this coming academic year.

Jamil Jivani, who was named by the government as its advocate for community opportunities, said this issue has been a priority. Mr. Jivani said he advised Premier Doug Ford’s government on ending streaming in Grade 9. He said that while streaming may work as students enter the later years of high school and choose their specializations, it limits opportunities in the earlier grades.

“Streaming really just judges them ... often it’s a form of profiling, to be honest,” Mr. Jivani said. “It’s a way that the school system looks at you and makes an assumption of who you are and what you might be capable of.”

Toronto parent and educator Natasha Rodriguez said she had to fight to have her son, who is Black, remain in the academic stream after it was suggested by his school that he be moved into the applied track for receiving a low mark in math. She said that some have suggested that students be streamed because of their ability, but “it’s a racist practice. There’s overwhelming evidence that Black and Indigenous and non-white children are streamed into applied.”

She said that while Mr. Lecce’s plan to end streaming in Grade 9 is a step in the right direction, “we need to hold the government accountable to see how that plays out in real time.”

“I think it’s definitely a political move. I don’t think it’s coincidental in wake of Black Lives Matter. I don’t think it’s coincidental in the wake of police reform and a call for defunding the police,” Ms. Rodriguez said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the decision to end streaming “long past due.”

“We were pushing the Liberals for a generation to get streaming out of our schools. I don’t know why they never acted on it,” she told reporters on Monday.

Still, Ms. Horwath said she is still skeptical of the government’s commitment to supporting students and the school system writ large.

“I think it’s not simply getting rid of streaming … but we need to support our public education system, and watching this government completely drop the ball on letting parents, or kids, or educators or anybody know what to really expect come September is really troubling.”

With a report from Laura Stone

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