South Shore school apologizes after using homework with racial stereotypes
Riverside School Board director says teacher will apologize to students, images won't be used again
WARNING: This story contains images that may be disturbing for some people.
George Stetka was shocked Tuesday when he saw his 13-year-old daughter's French homework.
In the handout, she was asked to describe two "gangsters." One of the drawings depicts a character resembling a Black woman, named Yvette, holding a firearm and the other, Paolo, is a dark-skinned man wearing a bandana with his pants hanging low.
Another part of the assignment depicts a person of colour as a suspect at a crime scene.
"The fact that it happened on the first day of Black History Month made it even worse,'' Stetka said. "Any day is bad, but especially not that day.''
He said the images that send the message to kids that "criminals are Black."
Stetka's daughter, who is half Black, is a Grade 7 student at Centennial Regional High School in Greenfield Park, Que., on Montreal's South Shore. Stetka said he was told by the school's administration that the assignment had been used for the past three years without complaints.
"There's never been a problem before — nobody noticed or was shocked,'' Stetka said, adding that Centennial is a very multicultural school. "I think it's a case of the teacher being naive.''
He said doesn't think anybody should be punished or fired, and he has no plans to take legal action, but he wants school staff to be sensitized to the issue — to understand that it is wrong.
School board director 'horrified'
Sylvain Racette, director general of the Riverside School Board, which is responsible for Centennial, said he was "horrified" to see the images.
"We've very serious about celebrating diversity and that's one of our recurrent themes," he said.
Racette said the board is treating this as a "teachable moment" and the teacher will apologize to the kids who were hurt by the handout.
He said the assignment was created by the teacher, and does not come from the school board or the province's Ministry of Education.
He has been in touch with the school's administrator to make sure the images are no longer used. He said they will also speak to all staff at the school to make sure it doesn't happen again in the future.
But civil rights activist Joel DeBellefeuille said the problem goes deeper than just one incident at one school. He described it as a classic example of systemic racism, and said he would like to hear Premier François Legault's reaction to the incident.
Legault has stood firm on his belief that there is no systemic racism in Quebec.
"It's not the kind of image that, as a Black person you would like to see,'' DeBellefeuille said. "It shouldn't be happening in 2022.''
Quebec government says situation taken seriously
In a statement, a spokesperson for Quebec's anti-racism minister, Benoit Charette, said the government is working to fight racism.
"We work to break down stereotypes and fight against all forms of racism and prejudice," said Rosalie Tremblay-Cloutier in an email. "This situation should be taken seriously, we will shed some light on this before commenting further."
Bryan St-Louis, a spokesperson for the Minister of Education, said in a statement that the material is unlikely to have been approved by the government. He said that the ministry is taking the situation seriously and would investigate.
"Educational institutions and teaching staff are responsible for choosing the complementary materials they deem appropriate to support teaching as well as student learning,'' St-Louis said.
"Workbooks can therefore be used by teaching staff without specific authorization from the department.''
DeBellefeuille, founder of Red Coalition, a group that works toward eliminating racial profiling in Canada, questioned whether the assignment was the only racist material used in schools.
"This is the systemic problem,'' he said. "This is how it starts. For the past three years, previous students have gone away with the knowledge that Black people and Hispanic people are criminals.''
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
with files from Simon Nakonechny and The Canadian Press