A report described inappropriate jokes and stereotypes “common” in Richmond schools, prompting the creation of a diversity, equity and inclusion task force.
There is a “significant amount of work” to be done to help students who are the target of racism, sexual harassment and discrimination in Richmond schools.
That’s the conclusion Sandra Nixon, chair of the school board, came to after an audit based on feedback from nearly 1,500 students, more than 500 parents and more than 600 Richmond School District employees.
“What has become clear is that there’s still a culture in our schools where we have to do a lot of work,” Nixon said.
Not only were there stories of students being targeted by various forms of discrimination, but there was a reluctance to come forward and report what had happened for fear of repercussions, Nixon explained.
“It’s absolutely the opposite of the kind of environment we’re trying to create where students and families would feel safe to be able to voice (concerns),” Nixon said.
The council formed a task force two years ago to examine the issue of racism in schools, when the Black Lives Matter movement was in full force in the United States, after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis policeman.
That summer, Daniella Jovanovic, a former Burnett high school student, approached the school board, who told them stories of racism as a student and called on administrators to teach more black history, which prompted the council to create the task force.
Bakau Consulting was hired to do an audit of the school district, and its report and eight recommendations were presented to the school board in late April.
The audit found that pupils referred to “inappropriate jokes and stereotypes as regular and frequent occurrences at school”.
“Some students also reported feeling marginalized, unsafe, ignored and discriminated against,” the report said.
Additionally, parents said they felt “powerless to share their thoughts and feelings, or report an incident without fear of repercussions or being marginalized.”
For their part, the “partner groups” reported that there was a “lack of clarity” on what to do in these incidents “how to report it, to whom to report it and what the next steps should be”.
“There was discomfort in reporting to school staff for fear of how the person reporting may be seen to have raised an issue,” the report said, adding that nothing would be done after the report was made.
Nixon acknowledged that schools would not be able to prevent all incidents from happening, but she said they could not “hesitate” to work to eradicate discrimination.
“We need to do our best to ensure staff feel supported in handling these things and students are supported to feel safe,” she said.
One of the recommendations was to create a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Advisory Group that would be similar to the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Advisory Group.
Moving forward, Nixon said it’s important to hear the voices of students who feel marginalized by discrimination, not just the leadership students who have normally been “the main student voice that we feed into.” “.
“I hope we come back to those who had the courage to tell us about their experiences and come back,” Nixon said.
She added that students might have prejudices coming from outside the school, but public education is bound to respect human rights.
“Where we have to land is (…on) the values that are now enshrined in human rights,” Nixon said.