By Laura Keil
The Chair and Vice-Chair of School District No. 57 (SD57) have resigned as school board trustees, citing a recent report about systemic racism in the school district.
SD57 Chair Trent Derrick said his resignation comes after he’s had time to reflect on the special advisors’ report.
“I can no longer be part of the Board of Education or a system that this report has shown to be racist, a culture of fear and broken,” he said in a letter explaining his decision.
In February the Province appointed two special advisors, Kory Wilson and Catherine McGregor, to review governance practices at SD57, after local First Nations leaders raised concerns about the District’s approach to Indigenous students.
The resulting report, released at the end of August, outlined numerous instances where Indigenous students were put at a disadvantage, held back, or stuck with policies that harmed them with very little accountability and no recourse for parents. The report also notes that many Indigenous people interviewed for the report were fearful of the professional ramifications of being interviewed, even if anonymously (to read the full report visit tinyurl.com/ff97yhex).
Derrick said he’s felt there is no urgency at the school district to fix the problem, no urgency for justice and restitution. “I am distressed by 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.’”
He said he 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.
“As a First Nations Leader, I can say that my voice was not meant to be at the table,” he said.
“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.”
He said grad rates for Indigenous students have been low and static for 15 years and there needs to be accountability.
He also pointed to Roberts Rules as a “major detractor tool used by this system to silence those trying to make real and significant changes.” He said agenda setting, speaking order and rules of process keep the system running along so 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.”
Vice-Chair Shuirose Valimohamed said resigning was not an easy decision for her and acknowledges “the commitment of a handful of SD57 staff and directors that will always do the right thing for all students.”
In a tweet explaining her decision, she said as a person of colour, she didn’t feel safe when speaking up in meetings.
“This position has exposed the truth, the higher you go, the more your leadership and voice is muzzled as a minority person of colour.”
She feels the board of education is geared to maintain the status quo.“I can no longer be in an elected position if I cannot make change for the betterment of students.”
On Aug. 27th, the Education Ministry appointed former school district superintendent Rod Allen and the special advisors to work with the school board to draft a plan for implementing the recommendations outlined in the special advisors’ report, including improving relationships with First Nations and improving staff resources.
The special advisers will submit a final report to outline the progress made by the board in meeting government’s expectations in March 2022. School District 57 scheduled a press conference for Tuesday Sept. 14th, after press time.