As a black woman, Adrienne Charles knows all about racism. But the Terrebonne resident never thought her young sons would have to deal with what she says is "flagrant" discrimination.
Charles's two sons, ages 8 and 11, attend McCaig Elementary School, an English-language school in Rosemère. She says they are regularly called the N-word at school, and not enough is being done to stop it.
She refuses to enroll them in a different school, she said. She prefers to fight.
"Those aren't the values I want to impart on them: to run away because you're black, because you're faced with adversity," she said.
Charles claims her sons have been called the N-word on the school bus, and a group of girls once likened black people to gorillas while her sons were in earshot.
One incident happened the same day the school held anti-bullying activities, she says.
Her kids aren't the only black kids in the school, but they do have the darkest skin, she said.
She said racist incidents have occurred at least five times this year. Four of those times, she says, she contacted the school and school officials intervened, meeting with the students in question.
More action needed, parent says
Charles said despite those interventions, the name-calling continued, so she turned to the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board.
She says the official with whom she spoke at the Laurier board told her Quebec's Education Ministry has a curriculum to deal with bullying, and beyond teaching that curriculum, there's not much more school authorities can do.
Charles says she'd like to see the school hold an assembly, send a letter to parents, do something to send a message that the situation needs to stop.
"At home, I make sure [my sons] know that they are victims, that it's not reality," she said. "Just because someone calls them a n--ger doesn't mean they are inferior."
"I do my best, but I'd like to have some support from the school."
Incident taken seriously, Laurier board chair says
The chair of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier board, Jennifer Maccarone, said Friday afternoon that the board takes the reported incidents seriously.
She said it has taken some steps but will be putting in place additional corrective measures "to ensure these occurrences don't happen again."
"We're talking about children," she said. "We do have an obligation to teach them right from wrong."
Maccarone did not go into concrete details about what more McCaig school and the board to act on Charles's concerns.
However, she said, the mother's distress was understandable, and the board will continue to try to "build bridges with this parent."
"We want to work with her to ensure that … we have a positive resolution," Maccarone said.
"I want my children to be part of a community that understands these things are wrong," she said.
She said the challenge is countering what children are exposed to outside of school, "no matter how many policies we have in place, or how many awareness-raising activities a school has in place."
Charles worries about long-term impact
Charles says her older son isn't as visibly fazed by the name-calling. She says her youngest is more sensitive.
"He asks me questions: 'Mom, why don't they like black people? Mom, am I racist?' He's all mixed up. He doesn't understand why people call him the N-word, what he did wrong," she said.
In spite of everything, Charles said her kids generally like going to school.
But she's worried, since there aren't many English-language schools on the North Shore, that the alleged taunts will continue into high school.
"We don't know what impact [the alleged incidents] will have on the child in question later on. As a parent … I can't stand with my arms crossed and hope it passes."