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Kelowna parent concerned over racism, bullying in middle schools

The mom said her child is being called 'monkey' by another student
Dr. Knox Middle School. (File photo)

A Kelowna mom is speaking out and hoping to engage parents after she found out her child had been a target of racism and bullying at a local middle school. 

Ashley, whose last name has been left out to protect the privacy of her child, said the issue first came to light when her kid acted out at home by ripping up her Mother's Day card in a burst of anger. 

Questioning the outburst, Ashley who has a child of colour, soon learned that they had been called racial slurs such as 'monkey' by classmates. 

She added that her child said they've heard other students also being called racial slurs. 

The concerned mom took the issue to the school's principal to address the situation where she was offered an apology and told the school has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to bullying and racism. 

The middle school, where Ashley's child attends, sent out an online newsletter to parents on May 31 commenting on racism and bullying in the school.

The newsletter reads:

"We are committed to fostering a safe and inclusive environment for all students. We encourage parents to speak to their children to see if they are experiencing bullying or racism. If you become aware of any incidents of racism or bullying involving our students, we request that you report them promptly. Your vigilance helps us address these issues effectively in a timely manner and ensures that every student feels respected and supported." 

Ashley said in speaking with the principal she was asked if her child wanted restitution, but the mom said her kid doesn't want the bullies to think of them as a tattle-tale and make the situation worse. 

"I had suggested that maybe they do an assembly where they bring in a trained professional who has an education in what racism is and can explain to these kids why it's not OK," said Ashley. "Then they could bring in the liaison officer and she could explain the criminal end of it." 

Ashley believes if kids knew the consequences that can come with bullying and racism that maybe the school could get a handle on it. 

It was explained to Ashley that assemblies haven't proven to be the best approach. She was connected with one of the youth safety officers in the city. 

The officer explained in an email to Ashley that "sometimes it may seem like there isn't a response because the school isn't able to share all of the personal information involved" under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. 

The Central Okanagan School District takes an education-first approach when it comes to bullying and discrimination. 

Superintendent Kevin Kaardal said in an email to Black Press, "Regrettably, racism is in our community, and schools reflect our community. To prevent bullying and racism, schools teach social-emotional learning and anti-racism for all students, from K-12. When racist behaviour occurs anywhere in the school system, it is taken seriously and met with discipline, education, and support for victims."

The school district handles bullying and discrimination on a case-by-case basis to ensure students and families are getting the support they need. 

Kaardal added that severe and repeated behaviours may result in suspension and a meeting with the community youth officer to determine if RCMP involvement is warranted. 

The provincial Minister of Education Rachna Singh said as both the minister and a parent she expects schools to take accusations like this seriously. 

"We have a number of resources for students, for the teachers. We have the K to 12 Anti-Racism Action Plan, mental health resources, SOGI inclusive resources just to make sure that every child, whatever their ethnicity or whatever background they are coming from or whatever sexual orientation or gender identity they identify with, that they feel safe."

The Anti-Racism Action Plan has five guiding principals. 

  1. To recognize and respect Indigenous rights and titles in accordance with Section 35 of the Constitution Act
  2. To engage First Nations, Indigenous partners and other groups and organizations representing racialized groups
  3. To amplify and defer to those with lived and living racism experience
  4. To demonstrate humility and respect with continuous improvement
  5. And to apply evidence-based decision-making 

Singh added that the province has implemented the program Erase — Expect Respect and A Safe Education — an online, anonymous reporting tool for students in the province experiencing discrimination, bullying, or violence. 

The Erase Bullying Strategy also offers training for educators, parents and community partners on things like threat assessments and trauma response. 

HealthLinkBC explains that when bullying is present in one of the province's schools, that learning centre is expected to have clear rules about intolerable behaviour, have class discussions to raise awareness of discrimination and what positive communication means, facilitate conversations among students and their peers, and should issues arise schools should increase supervision on school grounds while children are out of the classroom and provide support and protection for children who are bullied. 

School staff are also expected to follow through with consequences, because "doing so sends the message that adults are serious about the problem."

Parents are encouraged to join parent-teacher organizations to help develop new policies around bullying. 

Although Ashley isn't confident the school is doing everything in its power to address the issue, she's encouraging other parents with children of colour to check in on their kids. 

For parents and school staff who feel discrimination and bullying aren't being properly addressed in their school district, Minister Singh encourages those individuals to write a letter to the Ministry of Education. 

Brittany Webster

About the Author: Brittany Webster

I am a video journalist based in Kelowna and capturing life in the Okanagan
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