St. Albert’s Catholic school board issued a public apology last week after one of its high school teachers made a "racialized" joke at the expense of one of his students.
Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools issued an online statement March 17 on “an intolerable act of racism” which occurred in one of the district’s schools for which the district is “deeply sorry.”
The statement included few details on the incident.
GSACRD spokesperson Shanlyn Cunningham said the incident happened at St. Albert Catholic High School March 16. It involved an “inappropriate” and “racialized” comment from a teacher to a student in class and resulted in the teacher's suspension — the teacher has been placed on unspecified duties and is not teaching. The school’s principal had also asked a parent to remove a statement on the incident from Facebook.
Cunningham said this incident was being investigated by the board's human resources department and Alberta Teachers' Association representatives. She could not release the teacher's name, gender, or pay status due to the ongoing investigation.
Anti-racism educator and former St. Albert resident Jesse Lipscombe told The Gazette the incident involved his nephew, a biracial Grade 10 student at SACHS, and a male teacher. The Gazette has agreed not to name the student at the family’s request.
“His teacher came up to him in front of the entire class and made a joke about how ‘the police were waiting outside for you, they say you robbed a gas station,’” Lipscombe said.
While the teacher apparently thought this was funny, Lipscombe said the student and many of his classmates did not, and asked why the teacher was picking on the student. A classmate called a parent, who informed the student’s parents, who complained to school administration.
Lipscombe said the student’s mother, Lipscombe's sister, made a post about the incident on Facebook and was upset when the principal asked her to take it down pending the incident’s investigation. Lipscombe said he called the school about his sister’s concerns and posted about the incident on social media.
In the online statement, the unnamed teacher expressed wholehearted apologies and regret for his “careless, hurtful, and insensitive remarks.”
“I see the inexcusable damage I have cause, and I am embarrassed, remorseful, and sick at having failed this individual and all my students,” the teacher said.
The statements also included an apology from SACHS principal Wade Michael (who was not named in the statement), who said he was “truly sorry for asking the student’s parent to take down a social media post regarding the incident,” and had no right to ask her to do so.
The statement said GSACRD recognizes that work in anti-racism is a critical part of Catholic education, and has partnered with anti-racism educator Dr. Farah Shariff to develop fully inclusive schools.
Stand against racism
Lipscombe, himself a SACHS graduate, said he held an anti-racism workshop with SACHS staff March 18 in response to this incident and hopes to do more social justice work with them in the future.
Lipscombe said racism, fat-shaming, and other discriminatory acts make schools less safe for students. Replies to his posts about this incident online suggest these acts occur throughout St. Albert schools.
Lipscombe explained statements like the one this teacher made perpetuate stereotypes of fear and criminality around Blacks — a narrative which results in Black and other Indigenous Canadians being disproportionately targeted by law enforcement and Canada’s vast number of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
“We create the environment where things do occur by allowing certain things to be said,” he said.
Lipscombe said Canadians need to speak up and question people when they hear someone make racist remarks, and praised SACHS students for doing so in this incident.
“They stood up for my nephew, they made the call to someone else and brought attention to it. For that, I definitely applaud them.”