News / Halifax

'The timing is right:' Numbers of racist, discriminatory behaviour coming to Halifax school board

Halifax school board member Jennifer Raven says it's important to look at whether the numbers show a need for policy changes or professional development.

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Numbers of racist or discriminatory student behaviour will be coming to the Halifax school board for the first time after one member learned of “extremely disturbing incidents” at the elementary level.

Jennifer Raven, Halifax Regional School Board (HRSB) member for South Shore/Bedford, tabled a motion last week asking the the superintendent to come back with a report on the number of incidents reported in PowerSchool for the categories “discriminatory” and “racist” behavior, as defined in the provincial Code of Conduct for the 2016-17 school year.

Raven said the governing board currently doesn’t receive any reports on incidents like these, and while they’re recorded she said “I don’t know that that information has really turned into anything actionable.”

“As a board member and a parent I’ve had calls … I’ve heard about some extremely disturbing incidents. I’m Jewish, (and) I heard about a very young kid at an elementary school making anti-Semitic remarks, and I wasn’t thrilled with how it was handled,” Raven said in an interview.

That opened a conversation where other board members said they’d heard of similar racial or discriminatory incidents in their schools, Raven added.

“What shocked me was that I heard reports of very disturbing things in elementary grades. Some things you expect in junior high or high school, but this one really surprised me.”

The motion was seconded by Archy Beals, the board's African Nova Scotian representative, and passed during the regular meeting last Wednesday.

The report will include a total number of incidents not broken down by school, severity, or what type of discrimination was involved to protect confidentiality, Raven said, but it is only a “first step” to look at how common these incidents are, and she plans to ask for an annual report to track changes over time.

“How good are we doing or how badly are we doing?” Raven said, adding they could next ask for more detail, and a discussion could follow around whether the HRSB policy sufficiently addresses the issue.

Although Raven said the anti-Semitic incident (which she did not give details about to keep from identifying a specific school) was handled immediately, “parts of it could have been improved” and led her to think about whether administrators and staff could benefit from professional development on how to handle these incidents.

“I think the timing is right ... we’re living in a political climate where racism is coming more out in the open at least south of the border, but that maybe gives us a heads-up to start looking for solutions, and start tracking numbers in our own communities before it gets worse,” Raven said.

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