2017-10-04

School board amends reporting of race-related incidents

by Michael Lee

  • <p>FILE PHOTO</p><p>South Shore Regional School Board member Vernon Simms pictured in November 2016.</p>

The South Shore Regional School Board has approved a revised version of its race relations policy in response to a series of incidents at Forest Heights Community School more than a year ago.

But board member Vernon Simms, who also serves as the board's African Nova Scotian representative, stood out as the lone vote against the new Race Relations, Cross Cultural Understanding and Human Rights (RCH) policy.

Simms told his colleagues he could not support the change unless he felt comfortable it would be followed and effective.

"What I'm looking for is some level of confidence that there is no doubt that every staff, every teacher, every employee of the South Shore Regional School Board, when they hear or see any kind of incident, that it is brought to the attention of authority."

Simms proposed an external review of the RCH policy as early as June 2016, after it came to light that several months prior, a vehicle was seen flying a Confederate flag on school grounds at Forest Heights, while in another instance, a noose was hung above the door of a classroom.

The board never commented publicly on the incidents and referred to them instead as a personnel matter.

An outside consultant was not brought in to look over the policy, but in October 2016, members agreed to let staff conduct a review instead.

The final changes were discussed at a meeting on September 27.

The revisions include a section called "deliverables," which the board can refer to as a way to ensure that the policy is working.

A report outlining incidents from the previous school year will be presented to the board every October, and sessions meant to educate the board and schools on RCH are expected to take place throughout the year.

An account of how many people in the school system who may identify as African Nova Scotian, for example, will also be provided.

Some board members expressed confidence in the policy, specifically the yearly review process, but Simms said the language had to be more clearly defined so no one could offer a different interpretation of which incidents should be reported.

Speaking from personal experience, he said there is nothing worse than going to a person of authority about an incident and having nothing done about it.

"To me every incident of bullying or racial discrimination has to be reported and let those with the power determine what the next step is," he said. "But there should be no question, it has to be reported."

Board chair Elliott Payzant told LighthouseNOW he thought Simms had legitimate concerns and if those concerns do come up, the board will make sure they are taken care of.

"I think that incidents have to be handled and if they're major, they'll certainly come into the board office, but I think that many of the incidents that take place are best handled at the local school, by the local school. But they do need to be recorded at that area."

In addition to race-related matters, the policy also covers bullying, discrimination, sexual orientation, gender expression and identity, and sexual assault.

Superintendent Scott Milner said the board also has an RCH committee, which can check in at any point prior to the one-year review mark.

Incidents will also be reported through the online platform PowerSchool.

RCH coordinator Lamar Eason said grade, age and a student's prior incidents will come into play when dealing with RCH matters.

Although he could not guarantee that every incident will be reported, Eason said the policy will be followed as best as it can.

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