A derogatory word read out loud to her class from a novel by a Victoria area teacher sparked a formal complaint and a commitment by the district to end systemic racism.
It also raised the question of who decides what books and resources are used in the classroom, not only in the School District 62 (Sooke), but across the province.
The answer is that the choices are largely made by teachers, but the province shapes the curriculum and recommends resources in some instances, and individual school districts can set guidelines on how teachers can select appropriate resources.
The issue arose after a reading from the novel Underground to Canada in February – a “widely used resource in schools,” according to the district.
The district’s guidelines include things like ensuring core competencies are met, that literacy and numeracy skills are developed, and that First Peoples Principles of Learning are present. But they also include the importance of “personalizing learning,” allowing teachers to pick resources they feel would best suit their class’ needs. The district does not approve resources.
The main challenge to a resource being used in class is an appeals process for parents, who can submit a complaint about a resource to the district (unless it’s a provincial recommended resource, then it goes to the ministry of education.) If a complaint gets rejected, parents can also request their child not have access to a resource.
The Sooke district is waiting for the release of the province’s new K-12 Anti-Racism Action Plan. Roundtables were held in July 2020 and 2021 to review the province’s draft.
For the upcoming school year, the province said professional opportunities, an inventory of resources and recommended practices for anti-racism would be available for teachers. There are also plans for an Indigenous-focused graduation requirement for all students starting in the 2023/24 school year.
“Education is a powerful tool to achieve racial equity and equality – by learning to identify language and acts of racism and oppression, and understanding diverse cultural histories and experiences, we can better respond to discrimination in our communities and celebrate the contributions of all British Columbians,” Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said in a statement.
“Systemic racism is in our schools, it is in all structures of our government and all structures of our society,” SD62 board chair Ravi Parmar said. “I am certainly committed, as is our board of education, to do everything in our power to dismantle systemic racism.”