Premier Doug Ford announced new changes today to the education system that his government says aim to break down barriers for Black, Indigenous and racialized students.

Ford, who spoke at Queen’s Park this afternoon alongside Deputy Premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott, Education Minister Stephen Lecce, and Ontario’s Advocate for Community Opportunities Jamil Jivani, said his government plans to eliminate discretionary suspensions for students, strengthen sanctions for teachers who engage in behaviour of a racist nature, and provide teachers with additional anti-racism and anti-discrimination training.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what our students can do,” Premier Ford said today. “When these roadblocks are removed I want our young people to know that they can do anything they set their mind to. The sky's the limit.”

Through Bill 197, COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020, the government is proposing to eliminate discretionary suspensions for students from kindergarten to Grade 3, beginning in September.

The government says serious offences will still be subject to mandatory suspensions.

The Ministry of Education is providing an estimated $40.9 million to help school boards implement suspension policies, including the hiring of staff and implementing prevention and intervention activities and programs.

More than 65,000 elementary and secondary students in Ontario were suspended in the 2018-19 school year, according to the latest suspension data.

In today’s announcement, Ford also reiterated the government’s plan to end Grade 9 streaming into applied and academic courses in September, as announced earlier this week.

The provincial government said that the practice of streaming has disproportionately affected Black, Indigenous and students of colour from pursuing the pathway of their choice after Grade 12 and currently students enrolled in applied level courses have negative outcomes and limited opportunities for post-secondary education.

The government plans to introduce a new foundational Grade 9 math course for September 2021 and will work with school boards to transition students into a de-streamed Grade 9 math program.

The government says the move is the first step in de-streaming other curriculum areas.

“Two million students depend on our ability today to break down barriers to their success that impede their upward mobility and to break down those biases that exist within our society,” Lecce said. “The status quo is morally indefensible.”

In addition, to ensure students feel accepted in a discrimination-free classroom, the government says it will be strengthening sanctions for teachers who engage in racist behaviour.

According to The Ontario College of Teachers, there have been 32 instances of teacher discipline for racist or homophobic behaviour over the last 23 years.

The Ministry of Education has also proposed more anti-racism and anti-discrimination training before the end of the year.

The government is currently consulting with teachers' federations, education workers' unions, and trustees' associations on this initiative.