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Sooke School District board chair commits to end systemic racism in schools

But Ravi Parmar says mandatory anti-racism training, curriculum changes up to province
Sooke School District board chair Ravi Parmar said systemic racism continues to exist in the district and the wider community, and acknowledged more must be done to make SD62 more diverse and inclusive. (Photo courtesy Ravi Parmar)

In the wake of concerns raised recently by parents, the Sooke School District board chair acknowledged that racism continues to exist in its schools and the wider community. But he cautioned that positive changes will not happen overnight.

This month, a group of West Shore parents submitted a letter to the district urging it to implement anti-racism bias training in schools, and to ensure Black history is taught using materials written and created by Black authors. The group also highlighted their concerns with racism in the community after a complaint was levied against a district teacher who read a racist word aloud while reading from a book during class.

People identifying themselves as teachers and parents within the SD62 community took to social media to defend that teacher’s actions, prompting the call for more training.

READ MORE: West Shore moms press for anti-racism bias training in schools

In an interview with Black Press Media, SD62 board chair Ravi Parmar thanked members of the school community for bringing forth their concerns, and agreed racism continues to exist in the community – he has experienced it himself at times.

“Systemic racism is in our schools, it is in all structures of our government and all structures of our society,” he said. “I am certainly committed, as is our board of education, to do everything in our power to dismantle systemic racism.”

The district’s strategic plan is being revamped with “an incredibly specific focus on diversity and inclusion,” new values brought about as the community has become more diverse over the years, Parmar said.

More work can be done to accomplish these goals, he said, including board interest in ensuring district staff accurately reflect the diversity seen in the community they serve. Such change, he added, will not be accomplished in a matter of months as it will take time and effort to realize.

“Anti-racism professional development is already happening in this school district. We certainly have teachers who are also using Black curriculum and I want to give them a shout-out for doing so.”

READ MORE: Complaint filed against Sooke School District teacher for reading ‘derogatory word’ aloud

While such efforts are occurring in the district, they are not the mandatory actions some are calling for. Parmar said he would support the introduction of mandatory curriculum or training requirements on anti-racism bias and Black history, but noted such decisions would fall to the province, not the district.

In an emailed statement the Ministry of Education said the current provincial curriculum “includes opportunities for students to learn about diverse cultural histories in B.C., including the history and contributions of Black British Columbians,” but they have received feedback that Black history needs to be further enhanced and made more prominent in the curriculum.

“This will be a priority area of focus in B.C’s draft K-12 Anti-Racism Action Plan,” the statement read. “The ministry is working with our partners to establish guidelines for schools when responding to racist incidents, as well as a resource guide for educators.”

Funding has also been provided for working with diverse cultural groups to identify gaps in learning resources and fill them. As part of the draft action plan, roundtable discussions with BIPOC participants are being held to provide guidance on the process, the ministry stated.

“We understand there is more work to be done to ensure an anti-racism lens is core in B.C.’s education system. That’s why we are working with community organizations to identify teacher and student resources that can support anti-racism strategies, celebrate diversity, and advance diversity and inclusion.”

READ MORE: Indigenous-focused coursework to be a high school graduation requirement in B.C.


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Justin Samanski-Langille

About the Author: Justin Samanski-Langille

I moved coast-to-coast to discover and share the stories of the West Shore, joining Black Press in 2021 after four years as a reporter in New Brunswick.
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