British Columbia

Review of Prince George schools finds 'clearly discriminatory and systemically racist' practices

A team appointed by the B.C. government to look into governance issues at the Prince George school board say they turned up troubling evidence of systemic racism against Indigenous students and staff.

Special advisers appointed by B.C. government uncover issues with treatment of Indigenous staff and students

One of the concerns in the special advisers' report on the Prince George school board was Indigenous students being held back from making the transition to full-day kindergarten. (Weedezign/Shutterstock)

A team appointed by the B.C. government to look into governance issues at the Prince George school board say they turned up troubling evidence of systemic racism against Indigenous students and staff.

The report from special advisers Kory Wilson and Catherine McGregor was made public late Friday afternoon and makes a long list of recommendations about school board leadership, relationships with local First Nations and how to repair a "culture of fear, bullying, harassment and racism."

It raises serious concerns about whether many Indigenous students are receiving the education the school district is funded to provide for them.

"Unfortunately, we heard many examples of behaviours and practices that are clearly discriminatory and systemically racist," Wilson and McGregor write.

"Though some will argue it is not intentional, the outcomes have disproportionate effects on Indigenous students and can only be explained as such."

The authors also write that many of their recommendations do not just apply to Prince George but to the B.C. school system in general.

In response to the report, Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside has appointed former superintendent Rod Allen to work alongside Wilson and McGregor to make sure the board comes up with a plan to implement the recommendations, according to a press release. 

School board chair Trent Derrick said he is ready to do the work to create an environment that supports all students.

"We are willing to do what it takes to bring in a more just and equitable school system. Improving student outcomes is our priority," Derrick wrote in an email.

Some programs a 'holding tank' for Indigenous kids

Wilson and McGregor's report includes a handful of comments from Indigenous staff and students which they say demonstrate how discrimination has permeated the school system in Prince George.

"I walk into a school, my chest tightens," one person told the special advisers.

Another said they were told not to use their Indigenous name because "this isn't the place for politics."

The report zeroes in on a number of examples of inequities and systemic racism.

That includes alternative programs meant to provide targeted support for students that instead turned into "a 'holding tank' for Indigenous kids," Wilson and McGregor write.

The school district "is paid to educate all kids from 'bell to bell' and the kids have a right to be in school all day," the report says.

"However, we became aware that some Indigenous students were placed on modified programs where attendance at school could be reduced to as little as an hour a day, or only one day a week."

One unanswered question in the report is how the school district spent federal funding related to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

They also point to issues with assessments for young students making the transition to full-day kindergarten, writing that it was concerning to see dozens of Indigenous children being deemed not eligible to make the jump for reasons that included not being able to sit still or being poor communicators.

Those reasons "appear to be excuses and simply a way to keep some kids out," the report says.

The authors write that because of travel restrictions related to COVID-19, they weren't able to fully complete their investigation, and as a result there are some outstanding questions. That includes several ongoing harassment complaints, and issues with documenting the number of Indigenous students in alternative programs and what support they need to graduate.

There's also the question of what happened to federal COVID-19 funding, which school district officials reported as being used for technological needs, including for First Nations.

"Yet the First Nations reported to us that while they had clearly indicated that their students needed laptops, they were not given any technology," the report says.

"They were never given an explanation as to why and only upon the appointment of the special advisers did laptops arrive about one year into COVID. Elders were supposed to get laptops but they never arrived."

Wilson and McGregor say they'd like to see a full accounting of where the federal funds went, who was responsible and why there was a delay in getting those resources to First Nations.

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