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Canstar Community News
If the education system is to address structural racism, the issue of representation on school boards matters.
School governance is one of the key policy areas that is being examined by the Provincial Education Review Commission. The provincial government will either reduce the number of school divisions through amalgamation or eliminate school boards altogether and replace them with some form of government-appointed advisory body.
The representation of Indigenous and racialized community voices within the existing school-board governance structures is an important issue that needs to be addressed. In the city of Winnipeg, there are 54 school trustees representing six school divisions; a review of the 54 school trustees based on the 2018 election results indicates that only two self-identified Indigenous persons and three persons from racialized communities are represented on school boards.
This imbalance regarding representation means that the voices of Indigenous and racialized communities are not present at policy and program decision-making tables. Good decisions are made when the diverse voices that reflect the various communities within our city are represented at decision-making tables in order to effectively problem-solve and address the needs and priorities of the children and families served by our public education system.
Without the lived experience, knowledge and perspectives of Indigenous peoples and members of racialized communities, decision-making regarding the prioritization of issues and allocation of resources is brought into question.
While it is recognized that the intention of the current slate of school trustees is to serve all students and families in their school districts, it is the impact of their actions that needs to be taken into consideration regarding program and policy decisions that are made without the input of Indigenous peoples and persons from racialized communities in school-board decision-making.
The province of Nova Scotia has for a number of years been working on this issue of representation of Indigenous peoples and racialized communities within school governance structures. Legislation was put in place for Mi’kmaq First Nations to identify their representatives to be appointed to each of the seven school divisions in the province, in order to ensure the voices of Indigenous peoples are present on local school boards.
As well, legislation was enacted to have designated seats on school boards for elected African Nova Scotian school trustee positions on each of the respective boards.
In 2018, Nova Scotia eliminated school boards and replaced them with a 15-person Provincial Advisory Council for Education appointed by the provincial government. Legislation set aside designated seats for representatives of the Mi’kmaq First Nations, African Nova Scotian and Franco-Acadian communities, along with 12 other appointed representatives reflecting the diversity of educational and community interests.
The legislated terms of reference of Nova Scotia’s advisory council are based on consensus decision-making rather than a majority-rule process, in order to ensure decision-making is inclusive and representative of the cultures, languages, families, regions and communities within the province.
The Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle, a coalition of Indigenous non-profit organizations, and the Newcomers Education Coalition, representing ethno-cultural, settlement and community organizations, will be releasing a State of Equity in Education Report for each of our respective groups later this fall. The report will recommend that the provincial government address this issue of representation of Indigenous peoples and racialized communities within school governance structures.
The limited representation of Indigenous peoples and persons from racialized communities on school boards needs to be structurally addressed by establishing designated seats within governance structures, whether this is elected school-board trustees or appointed advisory councils. As well, in order to further address the issue of representation marginalization, consensus decision-making rather than majority-rule processes should be mandated in legislation to ensure all voices are authentically included around decision-making tables.
The status quo regarding representation on school boards is not working, particularly in the city of Winnipeg. We hope that the minister of education will consider this issue as one of the significant changes that needs to be made in order to begin to address the impact of structural racism within our public school system.
Heather McCormick is chair of the education committee of the Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle; Kathleen Vyrauen is co-chair of the Newcomers Education Coalition.
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