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Report finds systemic racism in School District 57

School District 57’s Board of Education will be under the watchful eye of three special advisors appointed by Victoria for the next year.

The move comes following a damning report from Kory Wilson and Catherine McGregor, who were brought in by Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside earlier this year to examine the governance practices of the board.

“Unfortunately, we heard many examples of behaviours and practises that are clearly discriminatory and systemically racist,” Wilson and McGregor wrote in the report. “Though some will argue it is not intentional the outcomes have disproportionate effects on Indigenous students and can only be explained as such.”

They point to items such as removing Indigenous children from their classrooms and/or assigning them to a ‘modified Dogwood’ path saying it “unacceptable.”  They added that Indigenous culture should be taught to all students.

The report is also critical of the board’s relationship with local Indigenous communities, but points out there are some in the district was are respected by a committed to working with First Nations communities.

“There is a clear and palpable lack of trust and hard feelings between many of the Indigenous stakeholders in Prince George, the First Nations and the district,” according to the report. “One issue that must be addressed is the dismantling of the Aboriginal Education Board.”

The advisors also looked at board governance and while praising some of the effort, pointed out that it comes up short.

“There is a strong core of leaders currently serving on the Board of Education,” they wrote. “We commend them for their efforts at engaging fully and authentically with First Peoples of the region, particularly the Lheidli T’enneh and McLeod Lake Indian Band. They have shown considerable leadership in thinking about how to address the concerns of rights-holders, and have begun on a course of actions that should continue. We also want to acknowledge that the senior leadership in the district has been a bit of a revolving door, with many changes over the last five years.”

They added a lot of work needs to be done when it comes to student outcomes. 

“The Ministry of Education’s Framework for Enhancing Student Learning needs to be fully implemented, with regular accountability and performance reports as a part of the board’s mandate and strategic planning processes,” they wrote. “We also believe that there needs to be a much more systematic focus on Indigenous student learning and reporting to parents and the community about efforts being taken to advance the gaps in learning that are evident from the annual How are We Doing? Reports.”

The report lists 49 recommendations, however, many of them are provincial in nature rather than being specific to School District 57. 

Beginning immediately, former Prince George School District superintendent Rod Allen will join McGregor and Wilson as a special advisory team to work with the board to:

  • ensure trustees understand the recommendations set out by Wilson and McGregor;
  • draft a work plan that details how the board will address the recommendations;
  • improve district financial planning, including aligning finances with board priorities
  • improve staffing resources;
  • improve relationships with local First Nations; and
  • implement the work plan, as necessary.

The special advisers will submit a final report to outline the progress made by the board in meeting government’s expectations in March 2022.

The Prince George Board of Education is required to report every two months on its progress, until March 31, 2022. The board’s reporting must include:

  • the completion date of the work plan;
  • the consultations that informed the work plan, including those with local First Nations;
  • the timelines for implementation of the work plan; and
  • outcomes from implementing the work plan

At the conclusion of this work, the minister will assess the situation and determine next steps.

The School Act enables the minister of education to appoint special advisers to review the activities, performance, and/or other matters of a board of education. Government can also replace an entire board with an official trustee.

Under the School Act, special advisers may enter schools and district offices, and can inspect any record of the board.

Key Findings:

  • A Board that is eager and committed to ensure SD57 becomes a successful, inclusive district
  • Lack of consistent and effective governance at all levels.
  • A need for a model of leadership, across the district, that is consistently based on respect, trust, shared purpose and transparency.
  • A substantial culture of fear.
  • A need for a clear strategy for moving the district forward with a focus on student learning in an inclusive, respectful way with all voices able to contribute to the future of SD57, including development of base metrics and an accountability framework that ensures Indigenous students are no longer ‘lost in the system”.
  • A relationships of mistrust leading to ineffective working relationships.
  • Clear discriminatory, racist systemic practices that have led to very poor outcomes for Indigenous students.
  • Outdated and systemically biased educational policies and administrative procedures.
  • Practices in assignment/re-assignment that appear arbitrary; no transparent application of operational principles or need.
  • More robust formal reporting processes on key strategic initiatives is needed with accountability reporting on District initiatives and progress towards goals/outcomes.
  • A need for an open, non-siloed approach, to sharing information in order to fully achieve the Board and District priorities.
  • Inadequate systems for strategic and ongoing professional development and training.
  • A need for effective mechanisms for the rights and title holders to contribute and voice their concerns about SD57.
  • A lack of transparency around decision-making and how things are done in the District.
  • Real need for restorative dialogue to ensure healing and a way forward that includes all.
  • No real mechanism for resolving disputes or addressing discrimination and systemic racism.
  • A need to ensure that all District employees work in an open and free manner without fear of retribution, in an environment that values and supports professional learning, innovation and risk taking
  • Poor tracking of Indigenous students, their needs and how to get them back on the “Dogwood path”.

Read the full report here.

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