By Neil Armstrong
|Photo contributed Althea Coke, a criminal defence lawyer|
Black parents in Peel Region are concerned about how disciplinary actions in the Peel District School Board (PDSB) are affecting their children.
Several met on March 7 at Central Peel Secondary School in Brampton, Ontario to participate in a parent engagement workshop organized by the parent representatives of the We Rise Together Community Advisory Council.
We Rise Together is the PDSB’s action plan to identify, understand, minimize and eliminate the marginalization experienced by Black students in its schools.
Under the theme “Discipline: From Time Out to Kicked Out,” the parents heard from a panel of experts including education lawyer, Alex Battick; Abigail Hamilton, executive director of ResQ Youth; and Althea Coke, a criminal defence lawyer.
|Photo contributed Alex Battick, an education lawyer|
The session, which focused on student progressive discipline, including detentions, suspensions, and expulsions, was moderated by Knia Singh, a lawyer and community advocate.
The aim was for parents to learn the process and how to advocate for their children if they have been put out of class, suspended or expelled.
Singh read from sections 306, 307 and 310 of the Ontario Education Act outlining suspensions and the requirements of principals, students, parents and guardians.
Hamilton said after a student has been suspended or expelled a notice must be sent to the parent within 24 hours informing of the action.
“I know that sometimes in our community we tend to react towards the child, however, there are certain steps that can be taken and I would strongly suggest it’s important to do your own investigation. Talk to your child and find out his side of what happened.”
She also suggested scheduling an appointment to go to the school to meet with the principal to get all the facts and then decide on what action to take.
|Photo contributed Abigail Hamilton, executive director, ResQ Youth International|
Singh endorsed this approach noting that, “if you don’t understand the facts, you can’t address the issue.”
Coke said as a criminal lawyer one of the issues that she comes across is that when police are brought in and the student is charged, there are instances when the principal or school officials request a statement from the student.
She said they do not realize that the student has a right to be silent when faced with criminal offences.
The lawyer noted that there is a conflict here because while school policies might require that, at the end of the day charges are under the Youth Criminal Justice Act -- a federal Act that trumps any other policy or any other legislation of Ontario.
Coke said there are Charter rights; students have a right to be silent, parents need to be notified as well, students are presumed to be innocent and they have the right not to make any statement.
The lawyer said the police or a principal cannot question a student without their parent being present.
“They have the right to also contact counsel so they cannot make any statement without the parent or as well speaking with their lawyer or a lawyer.
Battick said parents are owed procedural fairness in that they are entitled to be notified that their child has been suspended and entitled to have an appeal right to challenge the decision. Parents should also be informed of the timeline that they have to make an appeal for that suspension.
Hamilton said sometimes principals will advise parents that it is not necessary for them to go to the school because they, the principals, will take care of the situation.
“Would that not be considered a conflict of interest because the principal is the person who obviously called the police so I would suggest to parents that it is your right to be there and not to just accept what the principal says,” she said.
|Photo contributed Knia Singh, lawyer and community advocate|
Singh recommended that parents be aware of their rights by reading the Education Act and the school’s policy about student discipline.
He said from his experience in many instances the administrations of schools do not inform the parents of their rights.
Singh said the Education Act only allows 10 days for a parent to submit a request for an appeal.
It was also noted that it is important for parents to examine their child’s Ontario School Record at the school and they have the right to ask that certain things be expunged depending on the nature of it.
Coke said many studies have shown the existence of the school-to-prison pipeline and the education system is the key entry point to the criminal justice system.
“When there is an overreliance of involving the use of suspension and expulsion when there might otherwise be other ways of addressing it the school-based educational response what that leads to is to a weakened bond with the student and the school and the supportive systems in the school. And when you have that weakened bond you run the risk of students losing interest in school and then there are negative repercussions from that,” she said.
The panel also underscored the importance of parents documenting every phone call that they had with every teacher and principal, what their child told them, and any correspondence to strengthen their case.