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Black Burnaby student says district still not doing enough to combat racism in schools

Last Updated Jun 26, 2020 at 9:54 am PDT

Burnaby North Secondary student Haleluya Hailu. (CityNews Vancouver)

Burnaby School District will keep liaison officers in place until at least into the fall, despite calls to remove them

Haleluya Hailu, a Black student in Burnaby, says she's disappointed with the district's decision

The district plans to put together an anti-racism plan after consultation with the school community

BURNABY (NEWS 1130) – Despite the urging from a Black student to remove liaison officers from Burnaby’s schools, come September, they’ll still be around.

The Burnaby School District instead has agreed to develop a district anti-racism action plan, but a report isn’t due until the end of October.

“I think, it’s a good step. I don’t think it’s a big enough step,” Haleluya Hailu says.

The Grade 11 Burnaby North Secondary student spoke to trustees during their meeting earlier this week and called on them to remove the officers.

She’s disappointed that, instead, some sort of progress won’t be seen until the fall, at the earliest.

“At least it’s a timeline, but it doesn’t take that long to figure out what is wrong with the school district,” she says. “People have been pointing out the faults in the school district for a very long time and there have been a couple of student voices — former students, current students — that have been like, ‘Hey, can you do this already?'”

She plans to continue to air her concerns to the board of educators until liaison officers are no longer at Burnaby schools.

That means during her lunch breaks, after school, and online, Hailu says.

However, she would like for people to listen to the message behind her words, rather than just the words themselves.

“The entire time I’ve felt like, ‘OK, thank you for telling me that this is a good conversation that’s happening, but what about it?'” she tells NEWS 1130.

Hailu says if she were in charge, she would organize harm reduction training day for teachers, as well as students, so they could understand the message she and others are trying to get across.

“I don’t hate my educators, I just think they need to be educated a little bit on racism and tolerance. You can say something ignorant and not be racist, right? It just means you have not gotten the opportunity to be educated,” she adds.

“Most educators just want to understand things a bit better and either they have not been provided with the opportunity or they don’t want the opportunity. I don’t feel the district is doing enough.”

She believes even trustees could benefit from some sort of harm reduction training.

NEWS 1130 has reached out to the district for an interview several times but was told no one was available.

In a statement posted to the district’s website, the district says, “Courageous conversations about racism have presented an opportunity to all of us everywhere to do better.”

After consultation with the school community — particularly members of the Indigenous, Black, and other minority groups — the board says it will develop a plan, as well as update anti-racism policies.

“We must learn from the lived experiences of those in our school community who have been affected by racism, discrimination or bias right here in Burnaby,” Chair Gary Wong’s statement on the website reads. “This will help inform where we want to get to: a system action plan. If we are to impact systemic racism, we must not only honour their stories and address concerns, but we must also have an actionable strategy and be accountable for results. But first we must listen.”

-With files from Amanda Wawryk