Current events in Canada and the United States remind us of the work that must be done to make our society and our school district open, safe, inclusive and responsive – places where all can learn, thrive and lead dignified lives. The death of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests include an unparalleled and broad cross-section of American and Canadian citizens who have, with peaceful protest, signaled the need for change. One of the most heartening observations that I make of the protests is the overwhelming involvement of young people, who have delivered a compelling message: the time for quiet support is now past. We must take action.
We should be proud of the activism our youth are showing as they urge us to join them in this cause.
The recent death of Chantel Moore compels us to face the injustices and racial inequities prevalent in Canada. The need for this self-reflection is further highlighted by the racist attacks suffered by our Asian community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Events of recent months paint a stark picture of a society that is losing its moral compass. The lesson for this era must be that we are truly in this together. We must take action; we must be accountable.
The reaction to these events in our school district has been palpable, with many asking how we can move forward in positive ways to create fully inclusive work and learning environments.
We have, as a school district, already done some work in this area and have reflected on other steps we must take:
- We have changed our current Inclusive Schools policy to provide a framework to support our work in the rapidly changing social and cultural context of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows communities.
- Our Safe and Caring Schools services have allowed us to intervene carefully and attentively with high-risk children and youth. We will be looking at expanding the work of this department so that we are better equipped to provide direct supports tailored specifically for the social, cultural and racial diversity of our communities.
- We will work with our partner groups, including the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association (MRTA), the Maple Ridge Principals’ and Vice Principals’ Association (MRPVPA) and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), to provide professional development, dialogue and training in areas such as anti-racism, cultural sensitivity, and culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy.
- Our school administrators and senior team staff will embed in their professional and personal growth plans actionable goals that lead to a deeper understanding of social and racial inequities, and that support meaningful and lasting change in our district.
Even as we implement the above measures, I know there are areas where progress has not been what is needed. I give my full commitment to listen to members of our community who describe experiences that many of us have not lived. As we come together to listen, to plan and to gain strength from those who deserve better, our focus must be on building bridges rather than on defending them. In the words of Nelson Mandela, education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. We can do better. We will do better!