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Somali centre loses grant aimed at saving students from expulsion

Tuesday July 30, 2019

The $100,000 grant from Legal Aid Ontario is credited with sparing dozens of students from Ottawa's racialized communities from expulsion last year. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Legal Aid Ontario fund credited with keeping dozens of racialized kids in school

Funding for a program credited with preventing the expulsion of black students from Ottawa public schools has come to an end.

Legal Aid Ontario, which provided the grant under its racialized communities strategy, says there's only enough money this year to continue funding the program in the Toronto suburbs of Scarborough and Rexdale.

The announcement comes after the provincial government cut Legal Aid Ontario's funding by $133 million in this spring's budget.

Community groups in Ottawa and Toronto each received $100,000 last year to help families whose kids faced suspension and possible expulsion navigate the education system.

'What's at stake is the youth'

Abdirizak Karod, director of the Somali Centre for Family Services in Ottawa, said he worries about what will happen without the money from Legal Aid Ontario. (CBC)
In Ottawa, community organizers say the program not only helped shorten suspensions, but avoided expulsion for dozens of students.

"What's at stake is the youth," said Abdirizak Karod, executive director of the Somali Centre for Family Services, which ran the program in Ottawa.

"If you look at the dollar value, it saved the government or the community millions of dollars down the road," Karod said.

The Legal Aid Ontario program was developed in light of growing research linking expulsion from school to eventual involvement in the criminal justice system. 

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The risk of expulsion for racialized youth is significantly higher than in other groups, as shown by research by the Toronto District School Board in 2017.

"Expulsion does increase the likelihood of someone being pushed down the road of being involved with the criminal justice system," said Kimberly Roach, policy counsel and lead of Legal Aid Ontario's racialized communities strategy.

"We've seen it from a number of decisions by the court that talk about certain failures within the education system in terms of how it deals with racialized and Indigenous youth. So there is a cost at the end."

Paid for advice, translation, lawyers

Ottawa's Somali Centre for Family Services and the Toronto agencies won the grants in June 2017.

The money paid for staff to educate parents on their rights and advocate on their behalf. The grants also helped pay for translators and, when necessary, legal advice.

Roach said the money was a one-time grant, made with the hope that other forms of funding could be found to sustain the program in the communities that benefited from it.

In the end, however, Legal Aid Ontario said there was only enough money left to fund the Toronto programs.

"It's unfortunate that the service wasn't able to continue," Roach said.

Karod said the centre has had to lay off staff involved with administering the program. He's concerned about the families that will come seeking help next year.

"It will have an impact on the kids," he said.

"I know the Ontario government wants to look at successful outcomes, and that kind of successful outcome should be rewarded."

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