Two school board members have validated a provincial report claiming systemic racism and a culture of fear exists in School District 57 and, as such, have resigned their positions.
“I can no longer be part of the Board of Education or a system that this report has shown to be racist, (have) a culture of fear and (is) broken,” wrote Trent Derrick, former school board chair, in a resignation letter released today.
“There is a structure of systemic racism in School District 57 and it has affected my family, work ethic, friend and most importantly my mental health,” wrote Shuirose Valimohamed, who was vice-chair. “I can no longer be in an elected position if I cannot make change for the betterment of students in the district.”
She said that as a person of colour she felt “muzzled” and “never felt safe in any meetings nor at the public board table.”
Kory Wilson and Catherine McGregor 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 their report. “Though some will argue it is not intentional the outcomes have disproportionate effects on Indigenous students and can only be explained as such.”
Graduation rates for Indigenous students have been low and any attempt to improve them over the last 15 years have not been successful, Derrick said adding there needs to be accountability for the lack of improvement.
“I am distressed of what a residential school survivor said to me while a trustee, ‘Do you know what the difference between residential schools and the school system today is? Nothing, both were designed to take away our language and culture,'” Derrick wrote. “The issue is that there is no urgency to fix a system that is based on conformity into a colonial system. Genocide was done against First Nations and there is no urgency for justice and restitution.”
He added the traditional way of holding meetings using Roberts Rules of Order doesn’t work when trying to address Indigenous issues.
“I have discovered that Roberts Rules is a major detractor tool used by this system to silence those trying to make real and significant changes,” he wrote. “Agenda setting, speaking order and rules of process keep this system running along so that no real change can happen.
“As for indigenous voices, they need to be heard. It is their land, their voice. Real change will happen once they have an equitable say at the table. If truth and reconciliation was truly important. the local First Nations need to be part of the solution in a truly meaningful way.”
The provincial report was prompted by complaints from local Indigenous leaders to the minister. Both the Lheidli T’enneh and McLeod Lake Indian Band are seeking permanent, dedicated seats on the board. Last year the board pleased no one when it decided to rename the old Kelly Road School as Kelly Road Secondary – Shas Ti Secondary after a request was made by the Lheidli T’enneh to rename the school.
“As a First Nations Leader, I can say that my voice was not meant to be at the table,” Derrick wrote. “I can echo those recent First Nations leaders who have stepped aside due to not feeling that there is a truly safe place to be when speaking truth to power. If meaningful change doesn’t happen, there will be less desire for minority voices to come to the table. This will lead to growing cynicism in the system which will lead to a lack of true equity.”
Read the full report here.