Teachers wrong to wear racialized Halloween costumes, school superintendent acknowledges

Photos from 2010 Phoenix Middle School event surface

A 2010 incident involving three teachers dressed in blackface at a Halloween event at Phoenix Middle School does not reflect School District 72’s values and beliefs, the district’s superintendent says.

“Recently, online photographs of several School District 72 staff dressed in cultural appropriation for a school Halloween event in 2010 were brought to my attention, along with a statement that students deserved better,” Jeremy Morrow, SD72 Superintendent of Schools, said in a statement on the district’s website. “I wholeheartedly agree. I also want to emphasize this past event does not align with the values and beliefs of our school district. We are deeply committed to ensuring all actions taken in our district are reflections of our values of inclusion, respect, diversity, and the inherent human dignity of each person.”

Morrow told the Campbell River Mirror in an interview that the teachers have been spoken to but could not comment further on a personnel matter.

“The staff members that were involved have all been spoken to,” Morrow said, “and all of them are remorseful and apologetic for any harm that their participation caused and created.”

Morrow said that it’s important to acknowledge that previous incidents like this one are “not the sole responsibility of the individual staff members.”

There is a collective responsibility in the school district that has to be acknowledged.

“And we need to collectively own our past actions and acknowledge and apologize for the impact these actions have had on staff and students,” he said. “This is an example of where we need to learn from it, we need to grow and we need to do better and which is why, as superintendent, I unreservedly apologize.”

Morrow’s statement on the district’s website says that “over the last couple of weeks, we have all been witness to anti-racism protests and a civil rights movement taking place across the United States, Canada and around the world. As communities reflect on these events, individuals are having conversations and sharing their own experience or observations concerning racism within our community and school district.

“The actions depicted in these photos are wrong. We take responsibility for that and I apologize on behalf of the district for this event and others that may have occurred along the same lines in the past,” he said.

Witnessing the civil rights movement, listening to the resulting conversations and reflecting on our own past events has all in the school district thinking about what actions like this mean in the context of racism, systemic racism and how we must do better, Morrow said.

“Our schools must be a refuge of safety for racialized students and staff.”

SD72 is committed to learning and growth as individuals, as schools and as a school district, he said.

“We recognize that, alongside parents, we have a critical role to play in ensuring that we instill in our students the values of respect for diversity, inclusion and tolerance. As a district, we are committed to addressing systemic inequities and are deeply committed to meeting the needs of our learners.

“Our schools must teach, model and reflect the values of safe and inclusive communities.

“Inherent with learning and growth of any kind, as you know better, you must do better. We are committed to doing and being better.”

The school district is engaging in projects that will prevent further incidents like this occurring, Morrow told the Mirror. Next year, the school district is signed up for an equity and action project with the Ministry of Education. This involves an external group coming into the district and looking at its structure and practices with a focus on equity and parity for Indigenous learners.

The district also has ongoing plans for professional development with its staff that help support the diverse population that it serves, Morrow said. This includes the Indigenous population, racialized students and students with exceptional needs. The district has “trauma-informed practice,” mental health supports and the different understandings for its SOGI work.

The school board also articulated in a strategic plan that was developed before the beginning of the school year that equity for all learners was articulated as a major goal and priority for this board and it is embedded and articulated in the board’s strategic plan.

“So, it’s an area that we’ve identified of concern and an area that we’re targetting,” Morrow said.

RELATED: Blackface photo in 2017 Chilliwack yearbook sparks apology from school principal

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