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New West school district eyes new anti-racism policy

Trustees Anita Ansari and Gurveen Dhaliwal will lead the charge for a 'comprehensive anti-racist policy and framework'
Gurveen Dhaliwal, Anita Ansari
New Westminster school board vice-chair Gurveen Dhaliwal, left, and chair Anita Ansari are leading the charge for a comprehensive anti-racism policy for the school district.

The New Westminster school district has its sights set on charting a more actively anti-racist future.

Two school trustees – board chair Anita Ansari and vice-chair Gurveen Dhaliwal – are leading the charge to develop and implement a comprehensive anti-racist policy for the district.

The two brought their proposal to the school board table at the operations committee meeting held via Webex on Tuesday night (June 9).

“In this time of uncertainty, as we collectively grapple with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil protests resulting from structural inequities being exposed, it has become clear to us that, now more than ever, it is imperative to build anti-racist policies within our district,” says a statement they presented to the board.

The statement notes that, as a public institution, the school district is mandated to serve its diverse communities.

“Work needs to be done to meaningfully engage our communities in the development and implementation of a comprehensive anti-racist policy and framework,” it says. “Our students, our staff and our community deserve this. It won’t be easy and it won’t always be clear; regardless, this is work we cannot afford to put off.”

Dhaliwal told trustees that the work needs to be broad-based and draw on community input, as well as information about best practices in other organizations, so they can return to the board in the fall with ideas for what a “progressive and meaningful” policy will look like in New Westminster.

Ansari said it’s frustrating to see anti-racism work starting in “pockets” rather than with a fully developed policy.

She said the board needs to consult with the community, in particular the district’s BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) communities, in its work. She expressed her personal desire to create a safe district for her own children and to provide her lived experience to help in developing policy.

Ansari said New Westminster is well positioned to create good policy, noting that it’s a small and “really progressive” district that now has a chance to do anti-racism work that’s not being seen elsewhere.

“We know we can do better,” she said.

Their proposal found support around the table.

Trustee Dee Beattie told the board about hearing from families whose children were experiencing what looked, on the surface, like bullying but which turned out to be racially motivated incidents. She said it’s imperative staff are trained to recognize racism.

“I think it’s very important in this time that we stand up loud and clear and make sure that our schools are safe for our children,” she said.

Trustee Danielle Connelly agreed the work is critical and timely, telling Ansari and Dhaliwal that she’s there to “amplify and support” their efforts. 

“Some of us need to be quiet and listen a little bit harder and be here to support and have your back,” she said.

For the full text of the backgrounder statement, see the school board operations committee's agenda from June 9, available online here.