Principal Tried To Address Achievement Gap By Profiling Black Students

Peggy Aitchison, who admits to distributing a list to teachers, said it was a mistake she tried to rectify the same day she did so.

A principal in a Toronto high school is facing resignation after it was discovered she had compiled a list of black students and distributed it to teachers in order to address supposed achievement gaps.

Peggy Aitchison, the principal at Etobicoke School for the Arts (ESA) on the west side of Toronto, admitted she handed out a list of black students at the school to teachers in order to put focus on closing achievement gaps. She plans to resign amid pressure from the community.

Aitchison's actions assumed black students would automatically do worse academically than their white peers. In an email to parents earlier this month, Aitchison wrote that her handing out the list “was a limited, flawed, and ultimately inappropriate approach to identifying gaps in supports, and so, that very same day, I retracted that compilation that was based solely on perceptions.”

Parents and students were outraged. George Brown, who is a parent of an 18-year-old student at ESA, even filed a human rights claim against both the principal and the school district itself. He called the names distributed to teachers a “black list.”

“It took the photos of the black students in the yearbook and places it beside their names,” he said. “It is not being done on the basis of collected data. It is profiled.”

Brown didn’t accept Aitchison’s apology because he said he didn’t feel that addressing any achievement gaps would need to come up at all. ESA is a school that requires an application process and an audition — it’s not a place for under-achievers, Brown said.

“Most, if not all of the students, are overachievers. So the idea that the list was created in order to determine whether black students are underachieving or not ... receiving the benefits of what ESA has to offer doesn’t make any sense,” Brown explained.

The list also purportedly kept track of mixed-race students. That didn’t sit well with Brown either.

“You were in a different kind of category, as if you had some kind of white in your background, maybe you aren’t, I guess, stupid,” he said.

This sort of classification of students, under the guise of trying to help supposedly underachieving pupils, definitely needs further examination. It would be one thing if Aitchison had singled out students to teachers to help them based on their academics. Instead, she told teachers to keep an eye on black students, believing they’d automatically need extra help based on their race.

Her resignation is more than warranted, and the investigation should continue unimpeded. Should a systemic issue within the district be discovered, more resignations should follow.

Banner/thumbnail image credit: elizabethaferry/Pixabay

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