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Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce speaks at Queen's Park in Toronto on June 9, 2020.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

The Ontario government has appointed a supervisor to take over the Peel District School Board after the board failed to address its dysfunction and issues around systemic anti-Black racism.

Bruce Rodrigues, a former director of education at the Toronto Catholic school board and former deputy minister of education, will help get the board “back on track” and take action to “eliminate the practices and policies underpinning discrimination and inequities,” the province said on Monday.

“From day one, I said that if the [Peel board] does not act swiftly and completely to counter racism and positively change the culture within our schools, then the government will act,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement. “For a generation, students have felt ignored, powerless and disrespected. This ends starting today.”

It is rare for the provincial government to take over school boards and strip elected trustees of their power. The Peel board took an unusual step last week and asked the government to send in a supervisor.

Brad MacDonald, the chair of the board, and director of education Peter Joshua issued a joint statement on Monday, saying it was their hope that the government’s help would “ensure all Black students and staff, and others we have marginalized and underserved, face a new and better reality when schools reopen in the new school year.”

More recently, Mr. Rodrigues was a member of an independent committee examining the social and cultural practices at St. Michael’s College School, a prestigious private school in Toronto rocked by allegations of sexual assault by students.

The Peel board, west of Toronto, has struggled with addressing issues of racism, particularly anti-Black racism. Parents, students and community members have attended board meetings and demanded action on racism in schools.

Trustees and senior staff have also been divided. Last year, the board’s associate director of instructional and equity support services filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario against the board and Mr. Joshua, alleging discrimination and harassment.

A team of government-appointed reviewers last year found concerns about racism and equity were being ignored by the school board. That prompted Mr. Lecce to issue 27 directives for the board to follow, with strict deadlines.

Among the directives, the board was to develop an anti-racism policy in consultation with the community and the Ontario Human Rights Commission. I was also supposed to conduct a performance review of the director relating to anti-Black racism, Islamophobia and other equity issues.

The board continued to struggle, and Mr. Lecce appointed an investigator, who found Peel was failing to comply with government directives.

Arleen Huggins, a lawyer and human-rights advocate, wrote in a report released earlier this month that the board of trustees and the director are “lacking both the ability and capacity, and perhaps even more importantly, the will” to take steps to address governance, equity and racism outlined in a provincial review conducted late last year.

At the time, Mr. Lecce said that he expected a plan from the board by June 22 outlining specific steps of action, or he would act.

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