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School board trustees adopt anti-racism policy

Trustees strike two ad hoc committees amidst concerns over timing
Trustees vote in favour of establishing a committee to create an anti-poverty policy.

A policy with its genesis in a rally for social justice sailed through adoption at a Jan. 13 regular Board of Education meeting.

The page-long anti-racism policy has been in the works since the summer, after a rally in Sechelt was sparked by protests in the United States against anti-black racism.

It calls on “each member of the school district community to work to eliminate racism” by committing to equity and inclusion, raising awareness about privilege, bias, discrimination and prejudice, developing “cross-cultural interactions to create understanding, show respect for, and to celebrate racial, ethnic and cultural identity,” and by learning how to act “against all forms of racism and hate crime.”

Trustee Tonya Ste. Marie thanked Hampvent for chairing the committee and leading the process. Other trustees spoke favourably of the policy.

Vice chair Maria Hampvent and superintendent Patrick Bocking acknowledged Aboriginal education district principal Kerry Mahlman’s contribution.

More ad hoc committees

Two other ad hoc committees were formed at Jan. 13’s meeting – to create art and anti-poverty policies.

In her chair’s report, Amanda Amaral said she wanted to find ways “to address poverty at a more systemic level” and “explore more ways to build art into school and district spaces for students and staff to engage with.”

Trustee Sue Girard then struck a motion to create an “arts in school” policy.

Girard linked a recent acquisition of artwork by the school to the policy as well as stating that public art “is essential for our healthy growth.”

Ste. Marie, meanwhile, moved to form an equity ad-hoc committee “to develop policy around anti-poverty.”

The policy would outline the board’s commitment to create “an inclusive environment for all individuals … regardless of their economic status,” said Ste. Marie.

“We know very well that students and their families who are experiencing poverty lack the opportunity to participate in public education with proper dignity that they deserve.”

The policy would aim to acknowledge and remove those barriers, she said. A timeline and terms of reference would be discussed at the first meeting.

While the board unanimously voted in favour of both committees, trustees also expressed concerns over timing and priorities.

Earlier in the meeting, superintendent Patrick Bocking announced he planned to retire at the end of July, triggering the need for another ad hoc committee to select a replacement.

In response to the arts ad hoc committee, former chair Pammila Ruth said while she supported a policy, she questioned the timing given Bocking’s retirement.

Trustee Stacia Leech also asked whether the timing was appropriate. “We’re still dealing with COVID and we’re now going to be tackling the hiring of a new superintendent,” she said. “That’s still a little bit of a concern for me.” She asked whether the committee could start later in the year.

She also questioned whether it would make more sense to explore options and review work already underway at the district in relation to arts prior to striking the committee.

Bocking noted a fine arts committee is already meeting, and while “timing is an interesting question, making sure that everything fits … a very clear message from the board could be very powerful” to the arts community.