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This article was published 7/12/2015 (473 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Racism towards Syrian students who have not yet arrived in Canada is tearing through Winnipeg School Division on social media, trustee Dean Koshelanyk warned Monday night.
"There’s extreme concern there’s a lot of racism going on towards students before they’ve even come," Koshelanyk told a finance committee meeting of the school board.
Koshelanyk urged the division to work with "existing students" to ensure they welcome the imminent influx of students.
"It’s not a good thing out there. It’s happening on social media, very badly," Koshelanyk said. "I’m sorry — it’s a huge percentage of our students now. It’s happening on social media."
The finance committee heard extensively from staff that while the division still knows few specific details about how many students will come to WSD, what their language and academic skills are, and which schools they’ll attend, WSD has extensive experience welcoming refugee children into the system.
Koshelanyk said later in an interview he has not seen the racism personally, but is hearing about it from many students and young people he knows from his extensive network in community centres and minor sports activities.
"Students are telling me that students are sharing petitions to keep the refugees out," Koshelanyk said after the meeting. "I hear a lot of them talking. There’s that murmuring going on in the background with some of our older kids."
Chief superintendent Pauline Clarke told trustees the division will act if it can identify anyone involved. "If we know the source of it, we will do something about it."
Other trustees reported they’re constantly hearing from parents who ask how they can help.
"Let’s not overstate" the level of racism, said trustee Lisa Naylor. "Racism is going to happen, regardless of refugees or not."
Senior staff reported that principals will meet in early January to discuss how best to work with the new students. So far, the division has precious few details, but vowed it can act without delay once it knows where the new Canadians will be living.
Board chairman Mark Wasyliw pointed out the division has no control over where the kids will live, so once they settle, it’s up to WSD to find space in the nearest schools.
Clarke advised that the province has said schools can go beyond the mandated 20-student-per-classroom cap in kindergarten to Grade 3 if necessary.
"We should be requesting portables," said trustee Mike Babinsky.
Clarke said WSD is keeping the province and Ottawa informed about its costs, but cautioned there is no guarantee the division will get money from either level of government.
WSD spends $12,340 per student each year, but the Syrian kids will require far more resources, including training in English as an additional language and help getting settled.
Clarke said there has been no pattern of the province providing additional operating grants when students arrive from overseas during a school year — official enrolment occurs Sept. 30. Money gets transferred between divisions if a student moves from elsewhere in Manitoba.
On the other hand, Clarke acknowledged, school divisions don’t give money back when a student drops out after being officially counted for per-student funding.
Meanwhile, Education Minister James Allum said earlier Monday that the Syrian children need the stability of a school day as soon as possible, but wouldn’t speculate how soon that would be after they arrive.
"I don’t think you can put a date on it," Allum said.
"I’m quite aware we need to do good assessments when those students arrive. There has been an enormous amount of work. There has been an outpouring of goodwill."
He said the province is working with school divisions to identify quality housing with sufficient space, and then to see what space is available in the nearest schools.