The chair of School District No. 57 (SD57)’s Board of Education, Trent Derrick, and vice-chiar Shuirose Valimohamed have announced their resignations as school board trustees.
In a letter explaining his decision, Derrick stated his resignation comes after he’s had time to reflect on the special advisor’s report, which was released in late August, and found systemic anti-Indigenous racism and a “substantial culture of fear” within the district.
Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside had appointed special advisors Kory Wilson and Catherine McGregor to review governance practices at the SD57 in February.
Their report was based on 56 interviews and a review of documents which found Indigenous students, are disproportionately held back, placed in alternative programs or classes and removed from the typical graduation path.
“I can no longer be part of the Board of Education or a system that this report has shown to be racist, a culture of fear and broken,” stated Derrick.
“As grad rates for Indigenous students have been low and any attempt to improve them over the last 15 years have not been successful, there needs to be accountability for the lack of improvement.”
Derrick said the issue is there is no urgency to fix the system.
“I am distressed of what a residential school survivor said to me while a trustee, ‘Do you know what the difference between Residential Schools and the school system today is? Nothing, both were designed to take away our language and culture,’” said Derrick.
“Being part of trying to fix the problem, I have discovered that Roberts Rules is a major detractor tool used by this system to silence those trying to make real and significant changes. Agenda setting, speaking order and rules of process keep this system running along so that no real change can happen.”
Derrick said as a First Nations Leader his voice was not met at the table.
“As for Indigenous voices, they need to be heard. It is their land, their voice. Real change will happen once they have an equitable say at the table. If Truth and Reconciliation was truly important the local First Nations need to be part of the solution in a truly meaningful way,” said Derrick.
“I can echo those recent First Nations leaders who have stepped aside due to not feeling that there is a truly safe place to be when speaking truth to power. If meaningful change doesn’t happen, there will be less desire for minority voices to come to the table. This will lead to growing cynicism in the system which will lead to a lack of true equity.”
Valimohamed also cited the special advisor's report in her resignation letter.
“This was not an easy decision for me,” she states. “There is a structure of systemic racism in SD57 (verified by the special advisors report) and it has affected my family, work ethic, friend and most importantly my mental health. I can no longer be in an elected position if I cannot make change for the betterment of students in the district.”
She says as a minority person of colour she felt "muzzled" and "never felt safe in any meetings nor at the public board table".
"I couldn’t ask difficult or challenging questions to other trustees for SD57 elected positions or leadership," explained Valimohamed. "I can no longer be part of a system that doesn’t do right by students especially Indigenous students. It’s the residential schools all over again in 2021, except the system is doing it openly under policies procedures and Roberts Rules. “
The Education Ministry is now working with former school district superintendent Rod Allen and the special advisors to work with the school board to draft a work plan for implementing the recommendations outlined in the report.
The special advisers will submit a final report to outline the progress made by the board in meeting government's expectations in March 2022.-with files from the Canadian Press