News / Halifax

'Unacceptable:' Numbers of racist, discriminatory behaviour come to Halifax school board

Board member Archy Beals says it's surprising to see more than 300 incidents reported each year, but the data can help the board and schools move towards solutions.

A Canadian classroom

JONATHAN HAYWARD / The Canadian Press

A Canadian classroom

For the first time, the Halifax school board is seeing data on racist and discriminatory incidents that show exactly what students are dealing with - which can “help us move forward with creating a better society,” one member said.

The report, presented at the Halifax Regional School Board’s (HRSB) Committee of the Whole meeting Wednesday, details the number of incidents of discriminatory and racist behavior recorded by teachers and staff from 2015 to 2017.

Numbers show that there were 327 total incidents of discriminatory and racist behaviour in 2015/16, and then a slight rise to 360 in 2016/17.

“I wasn’t shocked, but I was surprised because the numbers are as high as they are. I knew we had incidents but I didn’t know they were to the extent that they were,” Archy Beals, African Nova Scotian board representative said in an interview Thursday.

Board member Jennifer Raven asked for the incident numbers at a meeting in November after hearing about anti-Semitic incidents, which Beals seconded and was passed.

Beals said he does get calls from parents dealing with bullying involving name calling and racial slurs, but it’s hard to pinpoint why the numbers would have gone up last year.

He said it could be a combination of the student population rising, more students feeling like they can report discrimination, and more professional development with both students and staff around racism, cultural differences, gender and sexuality.

Looking at discriminatory incidents specifically (including race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical or mental disability, aboriginal origin, socio-economic status and appearance) there were 152 in 2015/16 and 170 last year, plus 175 incidents of racist behaviour (using racial/cultural slurs, racial/ethnic name calling) in 2015/16 and 190 in 2016/17.

Broken down by age, there were 182 incidents at the elementary level in 2015/16 and 184 the next year. At the secondary level, there were 145 in 2015/16 and 176 the following year.

Beals said he’s not surprised to see more incidents at the elementary level because younger kids “say things and not know why” because they’ve heard it elsewhere.

“Schools are a microcosm of society, and a reflection of the larger community,” Beals said.

“We have to be accountable to all of the students who are in … the school system who have the right to be educated in a safe, welcoming environment.”

Although the numbers aren’t specific by school, type or severity of incidents, Beals said it’s valuable to have the data because it gives the board “a framework” and place to make decisions from.

Beals said the board will decide together what the next steps will be, but expects it to continue as a topic of conversation around how the numbers can inform more proactive education in schools, and and how the system can create a level playing field for everyone.

“I think the education piece, being very proactive, is going to be a real caveat to make sure that we give the information to students that this is unacceptable,” Beals said.

“It’s a tough situation … but I think we’ve made some real groundbreaking inroads with this report, and I think this report is going to help us move forward with creating a better society.”

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