Hamilton’s public school board released its first-ever student census Monday, revealing new data about student language, race, religion, gender identity and sexual orientation.
Voluntary student censuses have been mandated by the Ontario government to help identify and address systemic barriers students face at school. Censuses must be completed by 2023.
“We know the first step in understanding the makeup of the … student population,” said Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) chair Dawn Danko. “This will support the board’s human rights and equity goals.”
Here are six things to know about the HWDSB census:
1. The board has more racialized students than staff. The nine-question census found more than a third of students identify as non-white, compared with 12 per cent of staff in 2019. Eight per cent of HWDSB students identify as Black, compared with just 1.5 per cent of staff.
Four per cent identified as Indigenous, while 11 per cent indicated they were “not sure.”
The board says Black and racialized groups are under-represented as compared with the broader Hamilton population and is working to increase diversity through a recently launched “focused recruitment strategy.”
2. Nearly one-third of students do not identify as heterosexual. The census showed that 68 per cent – about two-thirds – of students in Grade 5 to 12 identify as heterosexual and 32 per cent do not.
Thirteen per cent of those said they were “questioning,” while eight per cent identified as bisexual, five per cent as asexual and four per cent as pansexual. Five per cent identify as lesbian, queer and gay. Less than one per cent identify as two-spirit.
Three per cent of students are transgender and four per cent indicated they were “not sure.”
3. Nearly one-fifth of students indicated a disability. Seventeen per cent of respondents reported having one or more disabilities, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD) (seven per cent), mental health disabilities (four per cent) and learning disabilities (three per cent).
4. Forty per cent of students are not religious or spiritual. Twenty-one per cent said they have “no religious or spiritual affiliation,” 10 per cent said they were “atheist” and nine per cent reported being “agnostic.” Another six per cent reported being being “spiritual, but not religious.”
Sixty-two per cent reported having a religion or spiritual affiliation, with Christian (28 per cent) and Muslim (21 per cent) having the largest shares.
5. Students speak 152 languages at home. The vast majority (88 per cent) reported English as the language they speak most often at home, with Arabic (six per cent), Urdu (three per cent), French and Punjabi (two per cent each) among the top reported.
6. The census reflects data from 48 per cent of the student population. Just 24,177 of about 50,000 students responded to the survey, which was reopened twice after its initial launch in May 2021 in an effort to increase participation.
Spokesperson Shawn McKillop said in an email students in Grade 5 and up completed an online form in class, while the parents of younger students were emailed a copy.
Superintendent of student achievement Paul Denomme said some students and families “opted out” of the census.
“As we continue to build trust and demonstrate that we’re using this data in a caring and in a responsible way, we intend to see … increased response rates from all communities,” he said.
Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board chair Pat Daly said in an email staff are “working extremely hard” on its own census and plan to release it in the fall. Results will be available in 2023.