January 20th, 2023
To the students, families and communities we serve in Waterloo Region,
The Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) is committed to a quality public education system and to continuing our work of building a school district that centres student voice, well-being and academic success in partnership with students and their parents, caregivers and families.
There have been questions about how we do the work we do, the books available to students and why WRDSB collects personal information. While framed as questions, the tone is accusatory, often coupled with inflammatory language and misinformation. Recently at a Committee of the Whole Meeting, similar questions were asked of us. Since these comments were made at a public meeting we have decided to answer them publicly. This specific letter aims to clarify some misconceptions in response to concerns and questions raised by a parent. In the interest of transparency we are providing an open letter to make the responses available to everyone we serve.
Supporting and Protecting Students
One of the questions accused the WRDSB of facilitating child abuse. To be clear, the WRDSB is not facilitating child abuse. The fact that such accusations are happening through public discourse is particularly disheartening and harmful to public education.
Any allegation of child abuse is taken very seriously, as we have a legislated duty of care and do everything possible to ensure the physical and emotional safety of all students.
Simply because a parent or caregiver disagrees with Ministry of Education and Ontario Human Rights Commission directions does not give them the right to make false claims of pandering or facilitating child abuse or pedophilia. This behaviour is egregious, although it is a tried and tested method to attack public education in an effort to reverse human rights and equity protections of marginalised groups.
That said, any valid concerns about child abuse should be taken to:
The Collection of Identity Information for Students
As part of our accountability to the Ministry of Education, we regularly engage in surveys to help us understand the make-up of the student population and their needs. These surveys include the Student Census and the Safe, Caring and Inclusive School Survey (SCIS). This is no different than the national census conducted by Statistics Canada that is used to support decision-making across the country. These surveys included questions about students’ identity. Similar questions were included on the WRDSB strategic plan Have Your Say Survey.
Importantly, for those who felt certain questions were, as the parent we are responding to phrased it, “none of your business,” those taking the Student Census, the SCIS survey and the Have Your Say Survey had the option to skip any of the identity-related questions. Additionally, each of these surveys were voluntary, and included opt-out options for parents and caregivers who did not want their child to participate.
Ontario school boards are mandated to collect identity-based student information under Ontario’s Anti-Racism Act. WRDSB’s process has been developed in accordance with the guidance and legislation provided by the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Education’s Education Equity Secretariat, the Anti-Racism Directorate, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The answers we receive give us a deeper understanding of the cultural, social and demographic makeup of WRDSB students, ultimately allowing us to ensure our system serves their needs as they learn, develop and grow to their fullest potential. Knowing this information allows us to ensure we are better serving all students including those who identify as 2SLGBTQIA+. It is our hope that we all collectively support an education system that is meeting the needs of ALL students.
To respond directly to the parent’s question “When does the board deem it has gone too far?”, as an educational institution, we are only interested in collecting data to help us provide the aggregated information to the Ministry and to ensure appropriate resources and supports are available to the students we serve. The Ontario Human Rights Commission has stated that “data collection can play a useful and often essential role in creating strong human rights and human resources strategies for organizations in the public, private and non-profit sectors.”
Censorship & Sharing Information with Parents, Caregivers and Families
Our job of educating the students we serve would not be possible without parents, caregivers, and families. A vital part of this partnership is clear, timely and transparent communications. We aim to keep you informed through a variety of channels, recognizing the diverse needs of the community we serve. From our websites, to SchoolDay, to our numerous social media channels, to the messages shared by schools directly with parents, caregivers and families – we do our best to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to be informed about their child’s educational journey in the WRDSB.
Our social media channels provide the opportunity to engage, share information with the WRDSB community, and build relationships with those we serve. Community members, parents, caregivers and students are able to contact us using direct messages on all our social media platforms to ask any questions or concerns. We remain open to respectful comments and feedback, both virtually and in-person.
Our goal has never been to censor or misinform students, parents, caregivers, families or community members.
Gender Identity & Creating Safe Spaces for Students to Share
In line with our efforts to support the well-being of all students to be their best and truest selves, WRDSB policies and procedures clearly define the steps taken to ensure our schools and sites are welcoming, supportive and safe for everyone who learns and works there.
WRDSB schools do NOT encourage, convince, or convert students’ beliefs about their gender. We do respond to ensure that the school environment is safe for them to express their gender identity when they let us know and/or when their parents, families, or caregivers let us know. We have a duty to uphold the Ontario Human Rights Code and Ministry of Education directions and ensure that the environment is safe for all students regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Gender and sexual orientation rights are human rights.
Transgender students have the right to be known by a gender other than that which appears on the student’s birth certificate. This includes students whose parents, families and caregivers are not supportive of this. Our approach in these scenarios is outlined in Administrative Procedure 1235 Accommodation of Persons Who Identify as Transgender. This procedure is guided by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 15), the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Education Act. This is not limited to the WRDSB.
This isn’t about driving a wedge between parents, families, caregivers and their children. Instead, it’s about creating safe spaces for students to express, celebrate and learn about their identities as well as the diversity that exists in the world.
Books Available for Students in School Libraries
As we respond to questions raised by a parent about a book available in school libraries, and the allegation that the book was available to his child, we believe it is important to note the following.
The Bluest Eye, written by Toni Morrison, is not available in WRDSB elementary schools. Additionally, although the reading level is Grade 4 to 5, the audience for this book is adolescents. The ebook version is available online to the student population. This book is more than 200 pages without illustration and in no way is promoted to young children.
The selection of school library books available for WRDSB students is guided by the Ministry of Education, specifically the Guidelines for Approval of Textbooks (2008). This document governs the selection of textbooks, and sets requirements for school boards to establish guidelines for the selection of supplementary resources. The WRDSB Library Collection Review Process is publicly available on the Library Learning Commons website. This provides an overview of the principles used for the selection and deselection of supplemental educational resources, including those available in school libraries. A balanced library collection remains current and relevant through the continuous process of the acquisition of new materials and the deselection of materials that no longer meet selection criteria. All libraries, not only WRDSB libraries, follow a process to keep their materials current and relevant.
The guideline also contains procedures for responding to community concerns regarding the selection or use of educational resources. Library collection review is led by professional librarians. These teacher librarians work with a number of provincial and national associations to develop the collection review framework.
The Ministry of Education’s Education Equity Action Plan (2017) also mandates that resources in library collections are accessible and reflect diversity. In support of this, WRDSB Policy 1008 – Equity and Inclusion Policy aligns with Ministry mandates and provides direction that curriculum resources are inclusive and address discriminatory biases.
Many of these arguments are veiled attempts to target 2SLGBTQIA+ children and families. They align with wider attempts over the past year that target public education and the need to address achievement and well-being gaps that exist among Indigenous, Black, racialized students, those with Special Education identifications and those coming out of poverty. Our belief is that any child in the WRDSB belongs here. We believe in the Human Rights of all students, staff and families that we serve.
Hate, racism and xenophobia are not “opinions” that should be gathered through consultation. The hallmark of a democratic public education system should be that we serve all students well, especially those with the least power.
2SLGBTQIA+ students and families deserve to be supported, feel safe, included and respected in their learning environments. This is a part of our commitment to creating a system where everyone belongs and is treated with respect.
It is our hope that this helps to clarify any misconceptions, misunderstandings or misinformation about the work the WRDSB does to best support the students, parents, caregivers, families and community members we serve.