New initiative aims to tackle ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ Black students face in Ontario Dee Burman

A new research project being launched by an advocacy group focuses on the issue of Black youth being pushed out of schools and into the justice system and is looking to root out the problem.

The 18-month initiative led by the Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC) will include reaching out to Black families and organizations in Ontario, along with those in the education and justice systems to gather information and find solutions.

“Black students in the school system are facing suspension at much higher rates than their white counterparts,” said Jody Yaa Dunn, BLAC’s anti-Black racism and justice programs manager.

According to BLAC, 42 per cent of Black students have been suspended at least once in secondary school, compared to just 18 per cent of white students.

Dunn points to systemic issues within the school system and the policies and procedures currently in place.

“We also know that Black students are being disciplined at much more higher levels as well,” she said.

Marley Lawrence experienced the problem firsthand at a young age. The 21-year-old was raised by his mother in the St. Jamestown neighbourhood in Toronto. He admittedly got into trouble while in school, but now wonders why no intervention or help was offered at the time.

“Police came to my door and said that I wouldn’t be allowed back on school property,” said Lawrence. “Why wouldn’t we hear this from the school first?”

He was arrested for assault at 13 years old and again for armed robbery when he was 16. Since then, he’s turned things around and has been working as a youth mentor after finding some guidance through support organizations.

“Stay true to who you are,” he said. “Everyone goes through hard things in life, right? But it’s not about what happens to you. It’s about how you come back from those things.”

The School-to-Prison Pipeline project will involve virtual information sessions and focus groups throughout the province, including Toronto and the rest of the GTA.

“There are other opportunities that the school system could look at,” Dunn said. “One of them is leaning into community, outwards. There’s a number of cultural organizations across our province that often have very good relationships with the black community.”

As a part of the project, an online hub will be created as a resource for Black families to connect with support organizations and to serve as a central spot for access to the data that’s being collected.

A final report will be making recommendations for the Ontario government to implement within school systems across the province.

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