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Burnaby school board approves anti-racism engagement process

First in three-step process will be broad survey translated into nine different languages
Student hand up

The Burnaby school district is almost ready to start gathering input for an anti-racism action plan.

A three-step engagement process was approved by the school board at a meeting Tuesday.

The first step will be a broad survey, which will be translated into nine different languages to lower barriers for as many students, parents and other community groups as possible.

More than 80 languages are actually spoken in students’ homes in Burnaby, according to assistant superintendent Roberto Bombelli, but the district’s SWIS (settlement workers in schools) have helped identify the nine most common. 

The survey is designed to give the district a broad view of issues around racism in the district, according to Bombelli.

The second step will provide those who are interested a chance to give more in-depth input via open-ended questions and prompts.

“If somebody self-selects, they’ll be given the opportunity,” Bombelli said.

The final step in the engagement process will be what Bombelli called a “listening tour,” involving smaller groups and focused on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) voices.

During this last step, Bombelli said the district will likely take an arms-length approach.

“The idea is when we get to this stage it would be most appropriate to have a third party run this process, so that we don’t have the district at the table recording what people are saying about the district,” Bombelli said. “It’s a cleaner process, and people might feel more comfortable to bring forward their honest conversation and experiences if we have a third party doing this.”

The engagement process presented by Bombelli and approved by the board was the work of an anti-racism ad hoc working group that met between November and March.

It was launched after trustees passed a motion in June, directing staff to develop a district anti-racism action plan after consulting with community members, especially from Black, Indigenous and racialized communities.

The motion called for the formation of an ad hoc working group to come up with ways to provide “meaningful, safe and culturally sensitive opportunities for students, staff and families to engage in consultation and dialogue.”

Superintendent Gina Niccoli-Moen didn’t mince words when she introduced Bombelli and his report at Tuesday’s board meeting.

“Racism does exist amongst us,” she said. “We know this to be true. We have said it exists in our schools, in our workplaces and in our communities, and we have been challenged with an opportunity to do better – and we will do better.”

Bombelli said the survey portion of the engagement process could be complete by mid-May, but the final steps of the process would likely run into next school year.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor