Surrey Schools Superintendent Jordan Tinney says that while there are no immediate plans to implement any new anti-racism and Black history education at the start of the upcoming school year, the district is first looking at how it can make that happen in the future.
On Thursday (Aug. 20), the Now-Leader spoke with Tinney about where the district is following allegations in June from a Black teacher in Surrey about the racism he says he’s faced while working here.
“I reached out in the spring to a group around how would we begin this conversation,” said Tinney. “I spoke with Michael (Musherure, the Surrey teacher) directly… we don’t want to impose a model but, at first what we talked about was bringing groups together in the fall to talk about — to just start to talk about — race and racism.”
Tinney said he’s since been in talks with an external group to help facilitate that.
Musherure, now an English teacher at Earl Marriott Secondary, said he decided to speak out after the death of George Floyd, who died while being restrained by police in Minneapolis in May.
Since then, there have been protests daily throughout the United States in solidarity of the Black Lives Matter movement and to protest police brutality.
Most recently, protests have turned to focus on Jacob Blake who was shot seven times in the back by Kenosha police in Wisconsin.
Tinney added the discussions around Black Lives Matter and racism are “still very much alive,” but the district isn’t at the stage of “designing any explicit curriculum, beyond what we normally do, at this point.”
“I can tell you that my summer reading was a book called, “So You Want to Talk About Race.” It was a fantastic book and that was their (the external group’s) suggestion for my place to start.”
When the Now-Leader first spoke to Tinney about anti-racism education in Surrey, he admitted the district has more work to do despite the “number of resources that deal with racism.”
For instance, schools still use “In the Heat of the Night” by John Ball, which uses the N-word repeatedly.
“Is it something that we should still do?”
Tinney said Surrey does “lots and lots at the district around discrimination, multiculturalism and inclusion,” but the message now needs to be focused on anti-racism.
One way to achieve this in the 2020-21 school year, he said, could be by hosting open forums that “create a safe vessel for people to come and tell their stories,” as suggested through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“What I don’t want to do is say, ‘Gee, this has happened. It’s huge. It’s super important and here’s a three-point action plan to address it.’ It’s way bigger than that.”
Tinney said that when these discussion first began in June, he went into the provincial standards for codes of conduct, which every school has.
“The word ‘race’ does not exist in the provincial standards for codes of conduct and neither does the word racism. But discrimination is in there and cyberbullying is in there and bullying and harassment and intimidation…but not racism,” he said.
“Then when you look at our own district policies, we see that we believe our policy is really about safe, caring and inclusive schools, but our own policies don’t explicitly talk about racism.”
Tinney said that’s why it’s “important to take a close look overall, and not just have a quick response.”
“The provincial codes of conduct order references the human rights code. Well, the human rights code in B.C. does not have the word ‘racism’ in it. It talks extensively about discrimination and does say ‘race’ nine times — I can tell you — but it actually doesn’t talk about racism.”
In June, B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming said the ministry is examining way to work with local groups to develop a curriculum that better incorporates Black history, including the slave trade and the Underground Railroad.
Yasin Kiraga, executive and artistic director of the African Descent Society British Columbia, said he began discussing the significance of Black history with the Education Ministry in 2016.
Kiraga, who came to Canada as a refugee from Burundi in 2009, has visited schools to teach about the once-thriving Black community in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood.
He said many moved out of the city before the buildings they lived in were demolished in the 1970s to make way for a viaduct to connect the area to downtown.
Kiraga said B.C.’s curriculum should include more than a minimum amount of teaching during Black History Month.
“We can educate Canadians who don’t understand the stories of racism in the past and how it affected the Black community,” said Kiraga, who is working with the Vancouver School Board to develop a course on Black history.
– With files from The Canadian Press