News / Toronto

Legal Aid Ontario grant aims to tackle 'school-to-prison pipeline'

Two community health centres to receive a total of $100,000 to support families, particularly of racialized backgrounds, navigate school suspensions and expulsions.

It was a trying time for Hope Singh. Her son had been suspended from high school, and she was struggling to navigate a system she felt was stacked against him returning to class.

“I was given little information and I felt I was being taken advantage of,” she recalls. “It caused anxiety and it deterred him from focusing on school.”

But that’s all changing.

Legal Aid Ontario has granted Scarborough’s TAIBU Community Health Centre and Etobicoke’s Rexdale Community Health Centre a total of $100,000 to help families like Singh’s through the PLUG program, which launches Thursday.

The program offers legal representation, advocacy and education to Black students experiencing trouble in the education system. Most don’t know their suspension and expulsion hearing rights, including the ability to have a lawyer, call witnesses and present their version of events, says TAIBU’s executive director Liben Gebremikael.

“There’s a gap in support for students and parents, particularly those of racialized backgrounds, who are often of low-income or are working two to three jobs to make ends meet,” Gebremikael says.

The program hopes to address that gap — as well as what he calls the “high school to prison pipeline" that's developed.

Black students are more than twice as likely to be suspended at least once during high school when compared to students of other races, a report based on Toronto District School Board data revealed this year. Of the 213 students expelled under the board's jurisdiction between 2010 and 2016, half were Black.

“A lot have been deterred and lost hope and given up,” says Singh, but she says she’s been lucky to have PLUG.

“My son knows I am his best support. Knowing there is another support (PLUG) helping the support means he knows I am like Super Woman.”

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