Moyra Baxter

Central Okanagan school board chair Moyra Baxter said racism was "just there" when she grew up in England.

The chairwoman of the Central Okanagan school board admits she’s acted in ways that would be considered racist today.

Moyra Baxter’s confession came as the board discussed a motion to assess and support education regarding systemic racism.

“When you’re in your 70s and growing up the way I did, it’s just there. Living in England in post-war it was there. I think, unfortunately, it’s still out there,” said Baxter during the school year’s final board meeting. “By approving this, we are recognizing that something has to be done.”

Baxter said she has changed over the past 50 years. But she still delivered some hard truths about the past.

“Looking back, I must acknowledge that I realize now that I have acted in what is considered a racist way, whether that is in conversations, in thoughts, in behaviour,” she said.

“I did not think that I would have named myself a racist, but I have to acknowledge that I have behaved in ways that are unacceptable and I have to apologize for that and pledge that I’ve determined that I’m going to do better.”

The police killing of George Floyd at the end of May rallied large-scale protests in the U.S., and around the world, led by the Black Lives Matter movement. It has inspired a public conversation about systemic racism, including the mistreatment and inequality of minorities.

Baxter said there is opportunity now for the school district to start talking about racism, and other connected issues.

“We haven’t even started talking about safe schools and what’s happening about – I mean, what’s the elephant in the room? – about police liaison offers or resource officers,” she said. “I’ve always been absolutely in support of them, and I would be totally against us saying we’ve got to stop that relationship.”

School trustee Norah Bowman brought forward the motion Wednesday night. She said racism is allowed to flourish through things that people who are “white privileged” see as normal.

She said systemic racism has been called institutional racism in the past, and it has shown its ugliness through the Alberta Eugenics Board, Canada’s residential schools, the 1885 Chinese head tax and the Indian Act.

She acknowledged there is a lot she doesn’t know and said she hoped to open up the discussion in the school district and broader community.

“It’s always difficult to look at our own role in our own institutions,” she said.

“I assume that I don’t know what the best thing to do is to address systemic racism because I’m a white person and this board is a board of white people who don’t experience racism on a daily basis in the Central Okanagan.”

Bowman said she’s quite sure educators in the district are already working in ways that are anti-racist.

“So I really mean this motion with great respect to all of our educators, workers and employees of the school district,” she said.

“I know that things are much better now in schools than they were in the ’80s when I was in school. All students now know about residential schools. Most students probably know about Japanese internment camps. But I don’t know that many schools in the Okanagan know about the history of the Chinese population in the Central Okanagan.”

Trustee Rolli Cacchioni said the secondary school social studies curriculum in place currently addresses topics of slavery, segregation and the U.S. civil rights movement.

English teachers also include authors of colour in their courses, he said.

Superintendent Kevin Kaardal said the administration can bring forward suggestions in the fall when the board meets again on how to move forward.

He said they could assess attitudes, programs, policies and other aspects of School District 23, as well as look into what supports are available through the province.

Kaardal said it’s important to ensure there are people involved from the broader community and to make sure they have a way to engage with the district and board in a meaningful way.

“We need to make sure we have the right community at the table and we’re getting the right voices to advise us from their lived experience,” he said.

The motion, which passed unanimously, states: “The Central Okanagan Public Schools Board of Education put in place a process to assess and support education throughout the school district regarding systemic racism; anti-racist education; and historic and contemporary content by and about Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour.”