2016-05-11

Racial incidents at Forest Heights Community School

by Michael Lee

  • <p>MICHAEL LEE PHOTO</p><p>Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin.</p>

Forest Heights Community School has been caught in the centre of a series of racial incidents involving a Confederate flag and a noose.

A retired teacher and sources with knowledge of the situation confirmed that since last year at Forest Heights, a Confederate flag was seen attached to a vehicle on school grounds on several occassions, while in another instance, a noose was hung above the door of a classroom.

African Nova Scotian representative Vernon Simms first raised the issue to the South Shore Regional School Board (SSRSB) at a meeting on February 24.

He asked the board if it could discuss a racial incident he was made aware of, but chair Jennifer Naugler said it was a personnel matter and would be discussed in-camera.

When asked for comment, Naugler cited Section 9.08 of the SSRSB bylaws, which states unless required by a court, no school board member shall disclose information discussed in-camera.

When asked what he was referencing at the public meeting, Simms said a Confederate flag had been flown several times at a school, while a member of the community informed him a noose had been hung just a couple of weeks prior to the board meeting.

Other sources tell LighthouseNOW it was a snare fashioned into the shape of a noose.

"If I hadn't been told by the community, nobody would've known about it," Simms said.

Although Simms did not specify which school it was, he said an investigation had occurred and the matter was taken care of.

However, he did feel the incident could have been used as a teaching opportunity and a public statement should have been made by the board.

Meanwhile, Bryan Reid, a former arts teacher at Forest Heights, said he personally saw a Confederate flag while driving past the school over the span of three months. He said peers at the school and members of the community also told him about the noose.

Reid retired at the end of January after teaching at Forest Heights for 10 years.

He says he first saw the flag in the school parking lot around late-November of last year and brought it to the attention of school administrators, namely the principal and vice-principal.

Miles Page, the principal of Forest Heights, told LighthouseNOW he could not discuss matters involving personnel or students.

Reid says he saw the flag again in January and once more in the first week of February. At this point, he said he contacted Lamar Eason, coordinator of race relations, cross cultural understanding and human rights (RCH) with the SSRSB.

Eason told LighthouseNOW any incidents are dealt with through the provincial code of conduct and the RCH policy.

However, in Reid's opinion administrators were uncomfortable with the potential "blow back" and "afraid to open that can of worms," given the Jesus t-shirt controversy a few years ago.

In 2012, a student from Forest Heights was suspended for wearing a t-shirt to school that read, "Life is wasted without Jesus."

Reid says he left teaching at 63-years old because he felt "exhausted" and wasn't being heard.

However, Reid acknowledged he was disciplined twice while at Forest Heights and it had gone on his record.

He maintains he only wants to focus a light on the issue and hopefully create change.

Like Simms, he believes those incidents could have been used as an opportunity to teach students about inclusion.

Tammy Smith, chair of the school advisory council for Forest Heights, did not respond to requests for comment.

LighthouseNOW was unable to reach superintendent Geoff Cainen, but his office said the matter is a personnel and student issue, and had been dealt with.

LighthouseNOW has not been able to confirm if any disciplinary action was carried out, but a Freedom of Information request has been sent to the SSRSB.

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