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Central Alberta school board commits $10,000 to address racism

Funding comes after a social media post that involved youth from the St. Paul area saying racial slurs.

ST. PAUL - St. Paul Education has committed $10,000 to help educate students and staff on a number of issues, such as racism and digital citizenship, in response to a video posted on social media New Year's eve that included local youth saying a racial slur against the Black community.

During the Jan. 12 St. Paul Education school board meeting, superintendent Glen Brodziak spoke about the video, offering an explanation as to why the division became involved in the off-site incident.

Brodziak acknowledged that there were a lot of inquiries as to why the school division would be involved in the incident, since it did not happen on school property or during regular school hours. 

He referred to the Education Act. In Section 33, it states a board, as a partner in education, has the responsibility to "ensure that each student enrolled in a school operated by the board and each staff member employed by the board is provided with a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment that respects diversity and fosters a sense of belonging."

The Act also states "A board shall establish, implement and maintain a policy respecting the board’s obligation under subsection (1)(d) to provide a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment that includes the establishment of a code of conduct for students that addresses bullying behaviour."

A student code of conduct must also include "one or more statements about what is acceptable behaviour and what is unacceptable behaviour, whether or not it occurs within the school building, during the school day or by electronic means."

Also, students can be disciplined "whether or not the conduct occurs within the school building or during the school day, is injurious to the physical or mental well-being of others in the school."

Brodziak said he holds a personal belief that everyone has a responsibility to provide safe and caring environments for all. 

In response to the video, administration has decided to proceed with offering additional learning opportunities, further to what is already in place. The superintendent listed off a number of initiatives that already take place in local schools, focusing on educating students about respecting others, mental health, digital citizenship, anti-bullying, Truth and Reconciliation, and more.

"There is lots happening in our schools. (But) an incident of this nature, we need to ask, is this enough?" said Brodziak. Answering his own question, he added, "We need to do more."

When asking for funds, Brodziak said that while staff can't control what discussions happen at individual dinner tables, they can control the discussions that occur within the schools. Work is already taking place to coordinate the first presentation, which will take place in the next couple of weeks. Future presentations will zone in on specific topics, such as racism and online bullying, he explained.

"We need to address this. We need to do whatever we can," said board chair Heather Starosielski. 

During discussions, Trustee Sylvie Smyl said she would like to see some sort of hands-on lessons, rather than just video presentations, to which Brodziak agreed. 

A motion to approve $10,000 for the efforts was carried by the board.

Mayor offers statement

Town of St. Paul Mayor Maureen Miller started the Jan. 10 regular council meeting by acknowledging the video that was posted on social media, showing youth from the St. Paul area using the racial slurs.

The video garnered plenty of attention online, and RCMP confirmed afterwards that they were investigating the situation, along with investigating threats made toward individuals involved in the video.

"As both a citizen and the Mayor of this community, I was terribly discouraged and saddened by the content of a video recently posted to social media, which focused on racial discrimination," said Miller.

"A municipality's purpose is to develop and maintain safe and viable communities," continued the mayor. "Actions like these bring to the forefront that there is still work to do, particularly regarding racism, cultural awareness and acceptance."

Miller added, "As leaders of this community, council and administration wanted to take this opportunity to reaffirm our stance of zero tolerance towards all forms of racism."

Janice Huser

About the Author: Janice Huser

Janice Huser has been with the St. Paul Journal since 2006. She is a graduate of the SAIT print media journalism program, is originally from St. Paul and has a passion for photography.
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