South Shore Regional School Board deals with racially charged incidents

A school board on Nova Scotia's South Shore is dealing with a series of racially charged incidents involving the display of a Confederate flag by a student and a noose hung on an African-Nova Scotian teacher's door.

Noose hung on African-Nova Scotian teacher's door, Confederate flag displayed

Using freedom of information laws, CBC News obtained emails from the South Shore Regional School Board concerning the racially charged incidents, which began in the fall of 2015. (CBC)

A school board on Nova Scotia's South Shore is dealing with a series of racially charged incidents involving the display of a Confederate flag by a student and a noose hung on an African-Nova Scotian teacher's door. 

The incidents caused some school board officials to suggest calling the RCMP, but the superintendent argued there was no basis for criminal charges.

Using freedom of information laws, CBC News obtained emails from the South Shore Regional School Board concerning the incidents, which began in the fall of 2015. 

Multiple sources, including the emails, confirmed the Confederate flag was displayed on a student's vehicle in the school parking lot beginning before Christmas.

The flag incidents occurred repeatedly over a period of months. The noose was hung on the teacher's door some time before late February. 

'A cruel reminder'

The school board has declined comment, calling it a personnel matter that has been dealt with. The teacher also declined to comment. CBC has chosen not to identify the teacher or her school out of a concern for her privacy. 

The board's race relations co-ordinator, Lamar Eason, wrote to the teacher on March 3, referencing an incident that appeared to have occurred recently. 

The teacher replied, saying: "I have been thinking a lot about this (the noose and the Confederate flag). The feeling I experienced of seeing a symbol of racial hatred flying in the school parking lot or of having a student hang a noose on my door will never go away.

"It was a cruel reminder of exactly what I am (to some). I know you will understand where I am coming from. It's not something that goes away. I am reminded every day as those kids come into my homeroom." 

'WTF'

Upon receiving the teacher's email, Eason forwarded it to the director of human resources. Eason commented: "TOTALLY DIFFERENT STORY THAN WHAT SHE TOLD ME...AND YOU. WTF." 

The email exchanges do not reveal the context of Eason's comments or what he meant.

CBC has learned that one student was disciplined. The school board has not disclosed what the disciplinary measure was or the identity of the student.

Board superintendent Geoff Cainen wrote to elected school board members on March 4 to notify them that another incident occurred. It is not clear from the emails what happened in that incident or whether it is the same incident Eason referenced in emails dated March 3.

Cainen wrote to board members that an incident had happened that day at the school with "racial underpinnings." He would not give any details by email of what happened or what discipline was taken, but called it "severe." 

"I will update you next week but didn't want this floating around without you hearing from me that we are aware, supportive of the work the school has done and completely supportive of a very strong message/example being delivered," Cainen said.  

Concerns from board members

Two board members wrote back to Cainen asking for more information. African-Nova Scotian representative Vernon Simms was one. 

Simms questioned whether the RCMP was involved and whether it was "the same students and classroom as the previous incidents."

Cainen replied that the incident did not fall under the Criminal Code, that he would not provide more information by email, but that he would give the board "a short update" at a scheduled meeting on the following Wednesday. 

Zero tolerance

Elizabeth Crossland, the school board representative for the New Germany area, also replied to Cainen with concerns. 

"Please assure me, Geoff, that the police should not be involved here. We cannot educate of the seriousness of bullying, racism and hate crimes and then make the call it is not serious enough," she wrote. 

"My understand[ing] zero tolerance and what message are we giving to the other student body … not to mention school staff. Please assure me the principal is handling this correctly." 

'Please have faith'

Cainen wrote back to Crossland: "Please have faith that I have given clear direction to principal. I agree with you it is unacceptable and we will show that but as hard as this is for all of us to remember there is a difference between wrong and criminal.

"No criminal activity took place. That is why the police are not involved. But what occurred was definitely wrong and the person will be dealt with harshly.

"I will update Wednesday I have to be careful it isn't discussed in email should the parents appeal and some board members have to serve on the appeal committee." 

The board met on March 9, but there is no mention of any discussion about the racial harassment incidents listed on the posted board agendas or minutes. There is no record of any in-camera discussions. 

The RCMP confirm police were called around March 10, but upon investigation there were no grounds for criminal charges and the teacher did not wish the investigation to go further. 

All discussions in-camera

In response to a request for comment from CBC, school board chair Jennifer Naugler wrote: "As a board, we had this discussion in-camera [as] it related to personnel, so I am therefore unable to comment."

Naugler stated that board bylaws prevent any member from disclosing any detail of in-camera proceedings. 

CBC News spoke to several board members who did not want to comment on the record, but said they had concerns about staff's transparency in handling the incidents. 

On the South Shore Regional School board meeting agenda for April 27, there is a notice of motion from Simms that an external consultant look at how the board complies with its own bullying policy. 

Simms said he made those motions partially out of concern for how the incidents with the flag and noose were handled. 

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Shaina Luck

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Shaina Luck covers everything from court to city council. Her favourite stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca