An incident at PECI where violence and racism were directed at a student in the elementary panel of the K-to-Gade 12 school has prompted senior staff to acknowledge this problem and announce next step corrective actions.
According to a social media post made April 24, a parent raised concerns publicly after their child was called the “N” word a number of times with one of the incidents leading to a physical altercation.
In a letter to parents, PECI Administration acknowledged “Racism is a problem in our society and at our school” and that such a serious issue “requires serious attention.”
“The purpose of this letter is two-fold. We want to provide you with information on actions the school has taken to address the problem of racism and hate at school, and also seek your support as we work toward next steps in confronting racism and hate in our school community,” the letter continued.
According to the letter, PECI staff will continue to teach students about healthy relationships and shape a “culture of understanding and mutual respect in the classroom and in the school community.”
“Under the Ontario curriculum, planning for classroom instruction focuses on the principles of anti-racism, equity, and inclusive education. Our team of educators are responsible for teaching students to value and show respect for human diversity, and help students to develop the tools for appropriately responding to hate,’ the letter stated.
From a whole school perspective, PECI has offered a number of learning opportunities for staff and students with the support of a wide-variety of community members and pointed to the Establishment of a Justice, Equity, Diversity, Indigeneity and Inclusion (JEDII) clubs for elementary (Grades 5-8) and secondary students (Grades 9-12) focussing on multicultural education, anti-racist discussion, building a safe and welcoming school, Indigenous peoples and reconciliation, valuing and exploring difference, bystander intervention and more.
While it’s still early days for the JEDII club, All Welcome Here’s Judith Burfoot said the group is proud of the grassroots ground work at PECI specifically and the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board in general.
“We launched the JEDII club with the elementary students and it’s a large group that turns out every week to learn about anti-racism and is working to make their school truly inclusive,” Burfoot told the Gazette.
AWH also sits on PECI’s Equity Team which consists of a group of students, staff and other community groups.
“We’ve been given the opportunity to speak to all staff and hope that is just the beginning of our partnership,” she added.
While the parent’s aforementioned social media post indicated a second racial slur was reported by their student to staff and not investigated further, PECI pledged reported racism and hate would be “thoroughly investigated, and consequences are coupled with tailored learning activities to support knowledge building and restorative steps for harm caused” and that senior staff’s priority is for “all students to feel safe and accepted at school, and while we are working as a school team to build a culture of inclusivity and allyship, we have more work to do.”
The school also acknowledged there’s a home learning component to eradicating racism at the school-aged level and for parents to “have some difficult and important conversations at home about kindness, civility, inclusivity and the harmful impact that hate and racism have on others.”
AWH also sits on the board-wide HPEDSB Equity and Inclusivity Advisory Committee and hopes they will soon have the opportunity to advise on committee-borne policy.
Burfoot agrees there are a number of key stake holders when it comes to anti-racism efforts.
“Parents and Caregivers: are you having anti-racist conversations with your children? Are you setting a lived example of anti-racist behaviour with all that you do and say? Are you actively talking to them about what they and their friends say and do? Are you addressing it when you hear an uncomfortable answer?” She asked.
“Are you as staff reporting every incident of racism? Are you a safe and trusted adult the students can count on? Are you working to unlearn your own biases and broaden your own curriculum to be more inclusive?” she wondered.
“Admin staff: are you ensuring that consequences are given when incidents happen? Are you ensuring that those who are being victimized by racism know that what happened to them is not accepted in their school? The rest of us have an obligation to support, encourage and push our schools to do better,” Burfoot said. “We know there is absolutely much more work to be done but we believe PECI is moving in the right direction.”