Calgary

Petition calls for CBE to establish school-focused racism task force

A high school teacher and a not-for-profit focused on multiculturalism are behind a petition to have the Calgary Board of Education establish a task force to root out systemic racism in the school system.

Teacher and multicultural group spearhead push to address systemic racism

Thousands gathered in Calgary's Olympic Plaza earlier this month for a candlelight vigil in honour of victims of racism and police brutality. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

A high school teacher and a not-for-profit focused on multiculturalism and race relations are behind a petition to have the Calgary Board of Education establish a task force to root out systemic racism in the school system.

The petition is asking the CBE to have a task force collect data based on race, gender, socio-economic status and other historic barriers to success in the classroom. 

The data would then be used to identify and address any problematic policies and practices that have never been questioned or even noticed before and look at ways to revamp the system and improve equality.

It might involve training and education for staff, including a locally developed anti-racism course.

"It's not just about the CBE," said Courtney Walcott, a high school teacher in Calgary.

"If I was working for the Calgary Catholic School Board, the Palliser Regional Schools, Rocky View Schools or even the City of Calgary, every institution really needs to take a look at themselves and do this work," said Walcott.

Walcott says that after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the global Black Lives Matter protest movement that followed, it's now the perfect time to seek change. He says the school system has long perpetuated problematic ideologies from the past that have no place in today's society.

Western Canada High School teacher Courtney Walcott is leading the push for an anti-racism task force at the CBE. (Submitted by Courtney Walcott)

"I felt helpless and now I don't," said Walcott.

Walcott says everything from a Eurocentric curriculum to policy and unconscious bias needs to be looked at.

He says as well as overt racism there are long standing norms and traditions that now need closer inspection, as well as a focus on improving the representation of minorities in the school system, in both teaching and administration positions.

"I had no idea how to have my voice heard or who to speak to, so I built this proposal and started seeking out allies," said Walcott. "We're still hearing these stories of kids saying they're not represented."

"No matter what comes of this, the more names that show up on the petition, the more the people that have the power to change things can see people do want that. And sometimes silence is just a function of not knowing where to yell," he said.

"In Calgary you're starting to see these small pockets of protest pop up, and I'm just hoping whatever comes of this is concrete solutions," said Walcott. 

The Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation, which is partnering with Walcott, says it's targeting school boards directly after being ignored by the provincial government. The petition already has nearly 4,000 signatures.

Iman Bukhari with the Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation was behind a successful petition to have the city establish an anti-racism task force. She hopes school boards will follow and start to look at systemic racism. (Submitted by Iman Bukhari)

The foundation released a study in 2019 highlighting racism as a concern to Albertan teachers. It also gathered more than 72,000 signatures for a petition for the City of Calgary to create a similar task force.

"It was hoped our research results would raise awareness about the magnitude of the issues discussed," said Iman Bukhari, CEO of the foundation, speaking about the 2019 study.

"And that further steps would be taken in order to address racism among school-aged children, however, we see nothing was done provincially or locally," she said.

Bukhari says she hopes going straight to school boards and bypassing a province that she says simply doesn't care about the issue might be more successful. 

The Change.org petition can be found on the Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation website.

About the Author

Dan McGarvey

Journalist

Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, only using an iPhone and mobile tech. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at: dan.mcgarvey@cbc.ca or tweet him @DanMcGarvey

now