SRCE, province say ‘more work to be done’ following racist incident involving students

ANTIGONISH: A video that’s circulating social media depicting a racist incident was the subject of a community engagement session at Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School on Oct. 5 and it has one local mother questioning the Strait Regional Centre for Education (SRCE), while the provincial acknowledges there is more work to be done.

Tara Reddick, who is a mother of four, and the Black Students Advisor at StFX, indicated Black families traditionally rally around one another in time of need, and earlier this month was no different.

“We were there to support a young woman in our community who was a victim of racism. It was an emotional meeting that involved school administers community members, elders, youth, parents and allies,” Reddick told The Reporter. “I think three teachers attended the meeting which was disappointing that more teachers at Dr. John Hugh Gillis didn’t feel it was important enough to engage, or just listen to the community’s concerns.”

Paul Landry, the regional executive director of education for the SRCE, said racism in any form is unacceptable and it’s not tolerated within any of its schools.

“It’s very disappointing when these type of events like this occur in any of our schools,” Landry told The Reporter. “We know that they are very upsetting and hurtful and cause deep pain to our students, our staff, our families and communities.”

Every incident is one too many, he said and acknowledged they still have work to do.

“But staff within the SRCE work every day to promote and celebrate cultural and ethnic diversity to ensure their schools are welcoming, safe, respectful and supportive learning environments,” Landry said. “Where all of our students feel safe, welcomed, accepted, valued and have a sense of belonging.”

He confirmed the SRCE did meet with the community group, which was comprised of parents, students, community partners and elders, and they certainly appreciated and valued the input shared.

“It was an opportunity for us to listen and learn from their life experiences and to try to make changes, and to continue improving the wellbeing of students in our schools,” Landry said. “We’re taking the information we heard and received from the community and are looking at ways of how we can further support our students.”

Reddick explained the Parent in Action Education Committee requested the meeting.

“We’ve been rallying around the same types of issue for many years. Every time we hold the SRCE accountable, and we give recommendations to the director and his team; I think (the meeting) was a stark reminder that actions speak louder than words,” she said. “We left there feeling even more concerned and deflated because we see that this problem is beyond the expertise of many of the key administrators that were in the room.”

In a written statement to The Reporter, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Becky Druhan echoed that racist language or behaviours will not be tolerated in their schools.

“Our schools should always be safe, inclusive places where all are welcome,” Druhan said. “Ensuring that schools are free from racism requires an ongoing commitment. We have more work to do. We need to keep talking to and educating our students, and parents need to keep talking to their kids about race.”

She said during these ongoing efforts, the department of education will continue to listen.

“We want to learn from students, staff, families and community,” Druhan said. “About ways to foster respectful, inclusive and safe learning environments where all students can thrive.”

Augy Jones, the executive lead of inclusive education, told The Reporter there’s a lot being done provincially to educate students on racism but there’s always more that can be done.

“I don’t know if we, as the department of education, in the regions really publicize on how much we are doing,” Jones said. “Because I often hear there’s not a lot being done.”

Prior to his role as executive lead of inclusive education, Jones was the director of the African Canadian Services branch and highlighted there was a significant amount being done within the community.

“We have over 75 student support workers throughout the province, and that number has grown year by year,” Jones said. “We have regional coordinators of African Canadian Heritage Services, and meet with them monthly around what are the issues; and this is also mirrored with and for our Mi’kmaq students.”

In addition, the department of education offers two courses African Canadian Studies and Mi’kmaq Studies, which has been on the curriculum list for over two decades now.

“Our inclusive education policy speaks around ensuring the high quality, culturally, linguistically responsive and equitable education to support the wellbeing and achievement of every student,” Jones said. “And that’s over 120,000 students from Whitney Pier to Yarmouth, and we want to make schools a place to have conversations, a place to start the healing, a place where schools are part of the restorative process.”

The most he said that they can do, as the department of education in the region, is dealing with school buildings and school sites.

“There’s also a lot of work to be done in the community still; around those same issues,” Jones said. “We’re trying to focus on what we can do in the schools to be able to self-actualize and teach students so that when they are able to go back into their communities, they’re ambassadors of equity and diversity inclusion.”

Jones suggested the department is that source for solutions to dealing with racism.

“I do think there is a partnership between the regions and the department of education at this point,” he said. “We work together with the regions, and in my role we’re trying to come up with provincial policies that are standardized across the whole landscape of Nova Scotia.”

The department of education also offers an anti-racism, anti-discrimination (ARAD) module, which will be released for all administrators, principals and vice-principals.

“It’s giving them the tools to address situations of racism, discrimination, homophobia in their schools and giving them guidelines,” Jones said. “So it’s not up to the individual principal to try and figure out, but there’s a set provincial standard.”

Often times, he said they’re not marketing or letting parents know what they have, that’s helping in the system within their schools.

Once completed, the ARAD module will be another tool in the department’s repertoire as there are still a lot of improvements to be done.

“The guidelines are set up in order to heal the person that was hurt, and that’s one of the main things around our inclusive education policy, it focuses on the student,” Jones said. “In this case, there was a student that was hurt, in that case we wanted to focus on that student and what we could do to heal that hurt.”

The guidelines the principals and administrators are given focus on what they need to do to make the student that was hurt, heal.

“And that hasn’t always been the focus,” Jones said. “That’s the direction that we’re going.”

For Reddick, her major concern with the department of education and the SRCE is equity and engagement, as well as creating a school climate that is safe for everyone be the priority.

“I personally have to relive trauma every time I enter Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School so I really feel for these students going there now,” she said. “We must understand that this incident is not isolated and is reflective of the inequities that exist within the educational system.”