‘A way to educate’: Montreal school board bans use of racial slurs, N-word

By Sacha Obas

MONTREAL (CityNews) — A school board in Montreal passed a resolution this week to ban racial slurs on their grounds.

The resolution passed by the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) refers specifically to the N-word.

“It was important to end the ambiguity and make a declarative statement about that word in particular,” said Allison Saunders, the LBPSB’s co-opted commissioner.

“Banning a word, we immediately think of sanctions and repercussions. I prefer to see it as a way to educate people early on about the cultural significance of the word and why it’s so hateful and ways that we can learn to do better.”

The decision will affect more than 23,000 students at more than 50 schools.

“I think it’s a really good step in acknowledging specifically the degenerating feeling that comes from this hateful word,” said Elysia Ross, a student at John Rennie High School.

“When they do say it, there should be repercussions for it. But I do think we need to learn about it, and why there are repercussions. We need that historical context to understand it in order to be anti-racist.”

The LBPSB resolution comes not long after a teacher at Henri-Bourassa High School in Montreal North was suspended after being recorded using offensive slurs in class directed at several ethnic and religious groups.

WATCH: Students unite against teacher who used N-word (Oct. 30, 2020)

“It’s not a magic bullet that because we ban the N-word that people are not going to be racist,” said Noel Burke, chair of the Lester B. Pearson School Board. “It’s an educational process that we need to educate young people about the impact of racism.”

Last year, after a video circulated online of two Pointe-Claire schoolgirls in blackface, the school board put in place a task force on equity and inclusivity, which did not participate in drafting or presenting this resolution.

WATCH: Racist video sparks cry for change (June 16, 2020)

“I think that what they are trying to do is to protect all kids and say that this is a dignified place and we are not going to have children exposed to words that can be harmful to them,” said Dr. Myrna Lashley, Chair of the LBPSB’s inclusivity task force.

The school board says the resolution serves to clearly state their position against racism. It will not be imposing sanctions for uttering the N-word, leaving that up to each individual school.

The Montreal school board has been organizing workshops and seminars for students dealing with subjects such as white privilege, entitlement, and the impact racial slurs have on communities over time.

“It’s very clear now where the school board stands on it,” said Saunders. “And it’s a lot more difficult for administrators to maybe excuse it away or not handle it in a way that is satisfactory to a student or their parent.”

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