The interim superintendent of Chilliwack schools is promising to make the school district “a better place.”
In the past week, at least two former students from the district have brought light to racism-based incidents from recent years. Both say the death of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, and the protests that have followed, were the impetus for sharing their concerns.
In response to one woman’s story of racism perpetrated on school grounds at Chilliwack secondary, Rohan Arul-pragasam, interim school superintendent, issued a statement on behalf of the district. In it, he also references Floyd’s death, and the issue of systemic racism and discrimination.
”Schools, and the broader school community, are not immune from these issues,” he wrote in a press release issued June 4. “As a school community, we need to stand together, to call out discrimination in all its forms, and to work together to eliminate it and to remedy the harms it causes.”
The first woman to call out the district for ignoring racism was 20-year-old Ashante Morgan. She was called the n-word by someone yelling at her in the school parking lot, while others watched and laughed. That happened in her Grade 11 year, and she has never felt it was handled properly.
Arul-pragasam’s letter was sent out following her story showing up on social media. He also attempted to connect with her on several social media outlets, but she stated to The Progress she just wants the school district to reflect and change policies on racism and Black History education in schools.
Then days later, another former student posted a photo of a white student in class in black face at G.W. Graham. Not only was the student allowed to carry on in class like that, as part of a mock trial assignment, but the photo ended up in the 2017 yearbook. The current principal has apologized since, echoing similar statements to Arul-pragasam’s letter.
Arul-pragasam says that school district have “a special responsibility” of “instilling the values of respect for diversity, of inclusion, of tolerance and of the inherent human dignity of every person. We are expected to, and must, lead by example.”
He said that every member of the community should know that they will be heard and the issue will be dealt with “thoughtfully, carefully, respectfully and fairly.”
“Everyone should feel that they can safely bring their concerns up – to their teacher, their counsellor, their principal, or to me and my colleagues in the district office,” he said. “Chilliwack, and our school district, are very diverse communities. That is part of what makes us who we are. That diversity needs to be celebrated. If we all share that commitment and work together, we can make this district a better place. You have my commitment that I will be doing my best to make that happen.”
Several Chilliwack school trustees participated in a Black Lives Matter march held in Chilliwack on June 5, that was attended by an estimated thousand people. The march began at Chilliwack secondary and moved down the streets toward Central Community Park. Many of the speakers were local students and recent graduates sharing stories of racism, and how being a person of colour has affected their lives.
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