Edmonton

Black parents call on francophone board to address systemic racism

Parents and students at a demonstration on Monday called on Edmonton’s francophone school board to take immediate steps to address systemic racism in schools by hiring more Black teachers and issuing a formal apology.

Hiring more Black teachers and issuing a formal apology are among the demands made by protesters Monday

Dieudonné Bessasse says his son Daniel asks why none of his teachers look like him. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Parents and students at a demonstration on Monday called on Edmonton's francophone school board to take immediate steps to address systemic racism in schools by hiring more Black teachers and issuing a formal apology.

Roughly 35 people protested outside the Greater North Central Francophone Education School Board Monday afternoon. 

"We want the school board to acknowledge that systemic racism exists in the schools," said Dieudonné Bessasse, a co-ordinator for the Black Parents Association of Alberta (BPAA).

They're demanding an official apology from the board for racism experienced in francophone schools and also asking for new policies, made in consultation with parents, to adequately address racism.

Calls for change come as institutions across North America struggle to address anti-Black racism. The BPAA canvassed families about their own children's experiences at francophone schools in Edmonton.

"We discovered that our kids are literally living systemic racism that has been taking place at the French school board," Bessasse said.

Black parents have long raised concern about the lack of Black teachers and administrators at Edmonton's francophone schools. 

But they're also worried that Black students are not receiving the support and services they are entitled to.

Bessasse said schools with a majority of racialized students tend to be overlooked for renovations even though they are the ones most in need. Some parents are also concerned that Black students are not treated equally in disputes involving white students.

Attempts by parents to work with the board to address racism in meaningful ways have been dismissed while policies implemented unilaterally haven't worked, Bessasse said.

"Systemic racism still exists within their own boundaries and we are fed up," he said.

Dieudonné Bessasse is among parents calling on the Greater North Central Francophone Education School Board to address systemic racism. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

In 2014, hundreds of people signed a petition urging the board to hire more teachers of African descent. At the time, one parent told CBC that no teachers at his daughter's school, École Sainte-Jeanne-d'Arc, shared her ethnic background.

Six years later Bessasse said he struggles to explain to his tearful seven-year-old son — who also attends École Sainte-Jeanne-d'Arc — why none of the teachers or administrators look like him.

"He cried asking me 'Daddy why?'" Bessasse recalled.

In an email to CBC, a spokesperson with the board said senior staff attended the rally to listen to concerns being raised.

Superintendent Robert Lessard acknowledged in a news conference that schools have not always done what they should to address racism but pledged to work collaboratively on solutions, the spokesperson wrote.

The school authority has launched an anti-racism working group in collaboration with three community organizations. The group will engage the community through forums and consultations to develop a plan to address racism in schools, the email said.

Actions taken by the board in the last six years have increased diversity at all levels of the organisation, the email added.

Parents called on Greater North Central Francophone Education School Board to hire implement policies to tackle anti-Black racism. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

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