On racism in P.E.I. schools, minister says 'we need to do more'

·4 min read
Education Minister Natalie Jameson says despite being a new to the portfolio, she is taking the issue of racism in P.E.I. schools very seriously.  (Rick Gibbs/CBC - image credit)
Education Minister Natalie Jameson says despite being a new to the portfolio, she is taking the issue of racism in P.E.I. schools very seriously. (Rick Gibbs/CBC - image credit)

Minister of Education and Lifelong Learning Natalie Jameson says Prince Edward Island needs to — and will — do more to address racism in Island schools.

The issue was raised in the legislature on Thursday, the last day of the spring session.

Green and Opposition education critic MLA Karla Bernard asked the minister questions around how the department was working to diversify curriculum, support schools and how students and parents should report incidents of racism.

"There are ways that students can bring forward concerns, but Mr. Speaker, I agree with the honourable member, we need to do more," said Minister of Education and Lifelong Learning Natalie Jameson.

"That is precisely why … we will be hiring on some additional expertise in this field."

Officials with the department say a curriculum specialist is being reassigned specifically to work with community partners to evaluate and improve the curriculum "so that it is reflective of our Canadian culture and values".

The Public Schools Branch will also be looking to contract a consultant to do anti-racism training with teachers and staff.

Greens want policy, action

Jameson said the request for multiple positions, including one to conduct training to specifically address racism in Island schools, came out of pre-budget consultations with BIPOC USHR, a support and advocacy group for BIPOC communities on the Island.

"I've reviewed that request, and I think there's a great deal of opportunities there, but we want to make sure that all community partners have an opportunity to engage in the process, so we will be issuing that [request for proposal] and certainly look forward to see who comes forward," Jameson said.

"With regards to the other curriculum specialist, that's been something that I have indicated as a priority for me since joining the department."

I am a new minister and I am taking this very seriously. — Natalie Jameson

After Bernard, Green MLA Michele Beaton also raised concerns in the legislature about racism in schools, particularly around a case of a parent she spoke with who has been trying to advocate for their child since the fall of 2019.

"After multiple meetings, the Public Schools Branch committed to striking a committee of stakeholders including representation from the BIPOC community to address anti-racism training and curriculum," Beaton told the legislature. BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and people of colour.

She asked Jameson why this has not happened.

"I can't speak to what's been done previously, Mr. Speaker, but as everyone in this house knows, I am a new minister and I am taking this very seriously. The well being of our students is of utmost priority to me and no one should have to ever experience racism in our schools," Jameson responded. "And that is precisely why we are moving ahead."

No specific racism policy

After the exchange, Jameson told CBC News the department does not have a specific policy to address racism, but it falls under the PSB's safe and caring learning environment procedure, which has a section on bullying and harassment.

Racial discrimination is not specifically mentioned in the policy, which says "allegations will be resolved at the school level where possible."

Bernard said she'd like to see a policy to address racism specifically.

"If there's not a policy there that tells people where to go and what the process is going to look like, they really have no power in that. So by not having a policy that reflects that, we're not hearing individuals who are coming forward with these allegations," she said, adding she finds it hard to believe this hasn't been addressed in 2021.

When asked if she believes it's a good start, Bernard said no.

Green MLA and Official Opposition critic for Education Karla Bernard says she's encouraged to hear the minister speak so positively, but she'd like to see an actual policy and process for parents and students to follow should they want to report racist incidents.
Green MLA and Official Opposition critic for Education Karla Bernard says she's encouraged to hear the minister speak so positively, but she'd like to see an actual policy and process for parents and students to follow should they want to report racist incidents.(Rick Gibbs/CBC)

"If we have one person, you know, looking at curriculum ... that's going to take a really long time for us to see any significant changes."

Bernard said she thinks schools provide a unique opportunity to address racism and diversity — with young, impressionable children under one roof.

"We can start having those conversations when they're really young with a really solid curriculum that's backed with evidence, then we can do some really great things," she said, noting anti-racism messaging could reach beyond curriculum.

"It's about what we have happening in very real ways in our schools every day: recess, on the bus, in the bathrooms. These are things that are happening … the people working the front lines of education need support."

Bernard said she feels encouraged by hearing the minister "speak so positively" on the subject.

"I really hope that that's an act that's going to be turned into an action item, and I will be keeping a very close eye on how this unfolds."

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