Calgary's Catholic school board has apologized days after a recording surfaced of a principal using the N-word in discussion with a group of Black students.
Four students at St. Michael School were suspended for recording principal Lianne Anderson's remarks without her knowledge and posting it online — something the school board said violates the student code of conduct, CBC News reported Wednesday
Chief superintendent Bryan Szumlas apologized Friday on behalf of the Calgary Catholic School District.
"I want to share our deepest, deepest apology. It's never appropriate to share a word like that, no matter the context," he said.
Szumlas said he also "stand[s] behind the principal as a very caring, compassionate individual. I think, as human beings, we all make mistakes, and to quote what the principal told me this morning, 'Dr. Szumlas, I will never say that word again.'"
One former St. Michael student has 1,000 signatures on a petition demanding mandatory anti-racism training for the school district's faculty and administration.
"If this is allowed to happen in our school, across the district I'd imagine that students face similar situations," said 16-year-old Allih Pineda.
Szumlas said the district agrees, and is working on a course in which staff can "learn more about racial justice and even situations like this and how to respond."
"Not only the individuals that were directly impacted at the school, but all of society can learn that [in] saying a word such as that, no one could ever understand the emotion and the harm that a word like that can bring to the emotions of an individual who is hearing it," he said.
Szumlas said, when it comes to the suspensions, there is still more to the story than what has been reported.
"These are private, personal, confidential matters that reside with youth and students and their families that I unfortunately can't get into all of those details with you," he said.
'Who's in charge?'
Pineda says he saw a similar situation unfold when he was in Grade 6 at St. Michael, and doesn't want more students to go through it.
"I had a math teacher just openly say the N-word in class as well. I just remember we were in class and talking about words you should not say," he said.
"He easily could have just said 'N-word' as a replacement and we would all understand, because as an educator, you can tell your students, 'don't use the F-word,' and you don't have to use the F-word in that circumstance for them to know it's wrong."
Pineda's petition also calls on the school board to say what percentage of its executive leadership and full-time faculty members are Black, Indigenous or people of colour.
"I just want to know, who is in charge?" he said. "The students just like aren't reflected in the staff, is what I'm getting at."
Szumlas said this is also something the board is working on.
"We are definitely looking at that, like I have said it before, and I'll say it again, systemic racism does exist and part of it is in our composition of our leadership and administration," he said.
"But you also have to to note, too, that we hire the best candidates. And so we're going to continue to hire our best candidates, and I encourage Black, Indigenous, multi-race people of colour to apply for positions and to come work for the Calgary Catholic School District."
Pineda said he'd also like to see a way for students to safely report racism on campuses and be provided with adequate protection.
"Some students may not feel comfortable with their principals at this point," he said.
Szumlas said he loves that idea.
"I think is a great idea, one that we will definitely consider as we go forward," he said. "I think sharing these stories is the first step to healing and the first step to improving."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.