Diversity, central anti-racism policy needed in Edmonton schools, non-profit report finds

·3 min read
Edmonton's Catholic and public school divisions are working on equity and anti-racism policies.  (Dave Bajer/CBC - image credit)
Edmonton's Catholic and public school divisions are working on equity and anti-racism policies. (Dave Bajer/CBC - image credit)

Educators and administrators need more support to start tackling racism in schools in a more comprehensive way, says the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights (JHC).

Last fall, the centre spearheaded workshops in Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer, Slave Lake and Edmonton, in which parents, teachers, school board trustees and community members shared ideas on how to curb racism in academic settings. The centre then compiled a list of recommendations in a report called Action Alberta.

Education districts need to establish a system-wide, central policy on anti-racism, said Angelica Quesada, JHC director of research and evaluation.

"We need the commitment and we need the community to be part of those conversations," Quesada said.

School boards in Edmonton started working on anti-racism policies last fall but it's still up to individual school administrators to steer initiatives, she said.

Those steps can change as administrators come and go, she added.

During the fall JHC workshops, educators and parents said they'd like to see more concrete, consistent programs.

Quesada said funding for the Action Alberta session and report comes from the federal government's Anti-Racism Action Program, which aims to address barriers to employment, justice and social participation for Indigenous people, racialized communities and religious minorities.

Hire more diverse teachers, report recommends

The Action Alberta report recommends districts and governments hire more teachers and assistants from diverse cultures and backgrounds.

Lainy Beaver, a project coordinator on Action Alberta, said it's important both school boards work more closely with Indigenous communities.

Beaver, a member of Bigstone Cree Nation, wants to see more role models for Indigenous youth, such as her five-year-old daughter who attends public school in Edmonton.

"I have not seen an Indigenous educator there, so for her to be able to see a teacher that looks like her, would just be incredible," Beaver said.

Changing racist attitudes may take time, however, she said.

"There are a lot of obstacles. You really have to fight for your education."

Beaver, who graduated from MacEwan University's child and youth care program, has faced hurdles throughout her education, such as a lack of support when doing her practicum in the field.

"There were a lot of situations that I had to deal with," she said.

Policies in the works

Edmonton Catholic Schools has developed a diversity, inclusion and anti-racism strategic plan, said spokesperson Christine Meadows.

Many of the Action Alberta report findings line up with the school-board-specific research and are addressed in the strategic plan, Meadows said. Edmonton Catholic Schools plans to share its plan later this month.

Edmonton Public Schools said its strategy started last fall, with a focus on hiring practices and collecting student demographic data.

The anti-racism plan "reflects the first year of a journey — one that we will walk together — rooted in kindness and empathy," spokesperson Veronica Jubinville said via email.

The Action Alberta report also recommends consistent and stable funding for initiatives and changes in province-wide curriculum.

The new K-6 curriculum will include Alberta's and Canada's history and heritage, a spokesperson for the Alberta Education Ministry said.

"Concepts, topics and issues related to anti-racism, diversity and pluralism will be addressed," the spokesperson said.

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