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Racism exists ‘without a doubt’ in Surrey school district superintendent says of report findings

Racial Equity Environmental Assessment done by external consulting firm
Surrey School District building. (File photo)

The Surrey school district has released the findings of a racial equity report from a Seattle-based consulting group.

Supt. Jordan Tinney said Nov. 17 during the school board meeting that the district started engaging with Racing To Equity back in the spring with the plan to undertake this assessment.

“The purpose of the scan overall was really to help Surrey Schools make meaningful, personal connections to systemic inequalities and they would say which we may not have been conscious of in order to dismantle it and replace it with newly developed systems that ensure systemic and sustainable racial equity and social justice,” noted Tinney.

Tinney said the report include “very explicit steps” for the district.

“Accountability must come from deep understanding and analysis of the underlying reasons that the changes need to be made in regards to racial equity.”

He said the report came out with three findings: systemic change, workforce development and stakeholder engagement.

With systemic change, Tinney said while there is “a strong commitment to racial equity among Surrey Schools leadership,” it isn’t communicated well.

“They mean no student, no adult should face any barriers within the system that prevents them from access to equality education. Those opportunities aside, they say there are indeed challenges that without a doubt explicitly racism exists within the district and needs to be addressed.”

For workforce development, he said the district’s administration, “and leadership team overall, just doesn’t represent the population that exists in Surrey.”

Tinney added the report noted “there is a lack of safe space to discuss experiences of racism and microaggression among BIPOC educators, staff and students.”

With stakeholder engagement, he said, that to proceed with the report, “it’s critical that the district take a collaborative approach. We don’t want to come out of this, what I think is a very significant report from the district, and say, ‘Oh, here’s what it looks like. I’ll strike a committee and I’ll have these participants and it will look like this.’”

But Tinney said there are “simple things” the district “can do immediately.”

“They sound simple, but the mispronunciation of names,” he explained.

“The number of times we’ve heard from our community and when we presented this to our administrators in the district where people said no one really took the time to learn my name, so therefore I’ve been called ‘X’ ever since. Things like that should be easy to change.”

He also pointed to letters going home to the English language learners, but some of those families do not have children in the ELL program. He said they are sometimes people who “get the letter just because of the last name.”

“There are some easy fixes but there are some long-term systemic things which really need to be addressed.”

Trustees Gary Tymoschuk and Bob Holmes were both pleased by the report, but Tymoschuk said there should be follow-ups to make sure the district is actually making progress.

“One of the things that isn’t explicit here but I’m sure it’s implied is this is like starting point, this is like a temperature, where we’re at now,” Tymoschuk said.

“We’ve got to make sure that we on a regular basis, and I’m thinking possibly annually but certainly come back and say, ‘How are we doing?’”

Trustee Terry Allen said it was an “honest” report and the district certainly hasn’t “tried to hide anything.”

“It gives us the opportunity to do all the right things. The truth of the matter is, though, it’s all our work,” said Allen.

“The part I would be concerned about is we just simply give it to one person and it sits on that person’s desk and really at the end of the day nothing happens. Everybody owns this report in the school district and it’s up to everybody to work through it.”

The board passed three motions: to establish a policy on racial equity and educational justice; to establish plans to build capacity district-wide for promoting racial equity in all Surrey Schools and that those plans be considered during the 2022-2023 budget process; and to develop an implementation plan designed to promote racial equity across the district based on the recommendations of the assessment.

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Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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