Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.
The Urgent Need to Tackle Racism
by Noel Herron
Last August, the BC Office of the Human Rights Commissioner launched the first ever public inquiry into hate crimes in BC. In announcing this important step, a year-long thorough investigation, Commissioner Kasari Govender noted that, since early 2020, there has been a significant increase in reported hate-related incidents. “It is critical for all of us to be better prepared to prevent and respond to hate during global health, economic and social crises to protect our human rights during turbulent times,” stated Govender.
The 19 months of the pandemic in B.C. have witnessed almost weekly incidents and events that point to the surge of racism both at a local and a provincial level, some minor, others with wider implications for sectors such as health, policing, education, sports, and politics. This very serious issue affects not just BC but the entire country. Yet, it was deeply disturbing that it was largely ignored during the recent federal election campaign. This, while we bore witness to the traumatic discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of First Nations children at residential school sites.
Provincially, BC has appointed Rachna Singh as Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives with the promise to introduce anti-racism legislation in the next session of the legislature. A public consultation is currently underway. Thinking of public education, that legislation will have to have considerable strength and impact to ensure that racism is tackled in a comprehensive and meaningful way across the province.
What steps have been taking place in education over the past year? On the opening day of the 2021/22 school year, the Vancouver School Board had an online anti-racism training session for all teachers and principals. It followed racist incidents that were brought to light by students and parents who had the courage to speak out and use the BC human rights process. That’s one positive step; however, it took the five separate parties that are currently represented on the board a full year to agree to implement this long overdue initiative. There is so much more to be done.
Last February, the BC School Trustees’ Association followed up on motions carried by the BCSTA Provincial Council the previous year and appealed to the provincial government to provide the additional support needed to implement systemic change in school districts across the province. Acknowledging that some steps had been taken, the BCSTA pressed for comprehensive plans to address the issue.
In August, we learned about a report, mandated by the BC Minister of Education, that found “clearly discriminatory and systemically racist” behaviours and practices in a B.C. school district and called for a province-wide review. This report on School District 57 provided a profile involving one school district. However, retired judge, currently academic director of the Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of B.C, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond agreed that a deeper probe is needed, stating, “This report was very helpful, but it certainly struck me as a kind of tip-of-the-iceberg report.”
BC’s reckoning with racism is long overdue and we all have a role to play. The creation of a truly inclusive, just, respectful, and caring society needs urgent attention from all levels of government-local provincial and federal. Additionally, it is incumbent on each of us to speak out against racism and, in the context of our all-important public education system, insist that all schools and school districts are modeling the society we seek.
Noel Herron is a retired principal, former Vancouver school trustee and past member of the Vancouver School District Race Relations Committee. He has a long and highly respected career in public education and is well known for his deep commitment to the well-being of students in general and to the needs of marginalized and racialized children and youth, in particular. While principal, Noel served on the Vancouver School District Committee on Racial Justice; he expresses his gratitude to the many race relations consultants and anti-racism advocates he worked with and learned from throughout his career.