A Black mother of students at Admiral Westphal Elementary in Dartmouth is raising concerns about the school’s handling of ongoing instances of racist bullying at the school that resulted in one of her children being called the N-word by a white classmate.

She said she repeatedly tried to address the issue with the school. When those attempts failed, she said she finally met with the school’s principal and guidance counsellor when she showed up at the school unannounced last week.

a brick school building with a car parked out front.
Admiral Westphal Elementary. Photo: Google Maps.

The mother, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was confused when one of her children asked her last Thursday what the N-word meant. It was then she learned that the same student who’d been bullying her children with racist taunts since the start of the school year had been sent home Thursday for calling them the N-word.

“They were both called monkey and the N-word, like, the little boy continuously said to them, ‘No monkey games’, ‘No monkeys over here,’” she said. “[The student] just always said the N-word, like all the time.”

“This hasn’t been the first time. This has been going on since probably the beginning of the school year.”

She said her children constantly complained to the lunch monitors, but that nothing ever was done so they stopped complaining altogether. She said the most recent incident was only brought to the attention of school staff when another white student spoke up and told on the bullying child.

The mother said that in the past the bullying was so bad the children’s teacher reached out to her and tried to set up a meeting with her and the principal before the Christmas break. The mother said that meeting was cancelled because of COVID restrictions implemented late last year.

She said she learned of the latest incident from her child on Thursday and called the principal the next day to set up a meeting. She said the principal told her she’d call her back on Monday. The mother said Monday came and went without hearing back from the principal.

Seeking solutions

On Tuesday, the mother said she left work early to go to the school to talk to the principal.

When she arrived, she said the secretary wouldn’t let her in but an educational program assistant (EPA) came out to talk to her.

“And I’m like, well, if nobody wants to talk to me, I’m just going to follow the school bus home because I’m going to find out where [the child] lives at and talk to his parents because my kids aren’t going to be called the N-word and then him returning to school and continuously doing it and getting away with it.”

She said the EPA then went and got the principal who then invited her into the school. She said the principal was “running around all frantically” while she waited calmly. The mother said Admiral Westphal Elementary doesn’t have an African Nova Scotian Student Support worker, but there is a part-time guidance counsellor, who is Black, and is at the school two days a week. That counsellor also works at many other schools.

She said the principal told her she wanted to wait for the guidance counsellor to join them in the meeting.

“She’s a guidance counsellor, but she’s a [former] Black teacher at the school, so they wanted her to handle it,” she said.

After 10 or 15 minutes, she said the guidance counsellor arrived and told her that she had just sent her an e-mail.

“And I’m like, this is Tuesday, this happened on Thursday, you’re only just sending the email now?”

Impromptu meeting

The mother said that at Tuesday’s meeting, the principal claimed she was unaware that the racist bullying was an ongoing issue. However, the mother said the principal knew because the teacher told her.

“And then the principal’s like, ‘Well, I just didn’t feel like I should handle it. I felt like [the guidance counsellor] should handle it just because she could relate to [your children].”

The mother said she was further upset to learn that the guidance counsellor had met with her children about the incident, unbeknownst to her, and without her permission, and that no one had apparently talked to the student who used the N-word beyond sending him home for a half a day.

She said she learned that though the school hadn’t contacted her about the incident on the Thursday, they did contact the children’s father. The mother said she is the custodial parent, but both parents should be contacted about issues relating to the children.

The mother said that throughout the meeting she was the one who was looking for solutions and that she and the guidance counsellor discussed possible means of intervention. She said the principal took notes, but looked mainly to the guidance counsellor to implement next steps.

What’s the policy?

“There are no policies in place, but when I asked her, ‘Why did you think it was okay just to send [the white student] home for a half a day and then bring him back? It’s not like a real suspension.’ [The principal said] ‘Well, there’s protocol around the suspension.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, well, where is this protocol at?’”

In a response to questions about schools policies surrounding anti-Black racist bullying and the use of the N-word in Nova Scotia elementary schools, a statement on behalf of the province’s education Minister Becky Druhan said, in part:

I want to reinforce that racism, in any form, is unacceptable and is not tolerated in any of our schools. While I cannot speak to specific incidents, I have confirmed that HRCE has looked into the matter.

It is my expectation that schools and Regional Centre for Educations/CSAP always respond to any form of racism, violence or bullying in accordance with the Provincial School Code of Conduct and that any allegation be taken very seriously. If someone feels a response to unacceptable behaviour was not handled appropriately, I encourage them to reach out to their school principal or to the regional centre for education.

In a separate e-mail, Kelly Connors, the Acting Coordinator of Communications for the Halifax Regional Centre for Education said:

We are committed to ensuring safe, positive and inclusive learning environments for all students and staff in the Halifax Regional Centre for Education.

Racist behaviour and/or the use of racial slurs are never tolerated and will always be addressed by the school’s administration in accordance with the Provincial School Code of Conduct.

The Code of Conduct outlines the potential responses to unacceptable behaviour. Individual responses to unacceptable behaviors range according to the circumstances and are based on a number of factors:

• the student’s age;
• the developmental level of the student;
• the severity of the incident;
• be chosen primarily for their educational value; and
• be fair, equitable and respect the dignity of all involved.

When harm is done, we know it’s important to educate those involved and to repair and restore relationships. In elementary school, some of the strategies can include restorative approaches (where administrators and teachers bring students together to talk about why certain behaviours cause harm to others), coaching to develop new behaviour, meeting with families and providing additional support through school team members.

If parents/guardians ever have concerns about their child’s safety and well-being, we encourage them to reach out to their school principal.

**I can assure you that students involved in any form of racist behaviour would receive immediate and appropriate consequences for their actions. Due to our student privacy obligations, we are not at liberty to share information related to specific incidents or student consequences. We have looked into the allegations at Admiral Westphal Elementary to ensure the Provincial School Code of Conduct was followed and appropriate actions were taken.**

The mother said she feels the school may have missed the mark by not addressing the situation directly with the white child right away.

“But it’s definitely worth bringing it up to his parents and sitting down and having a serious conversation,” she said.

“And I think it’s definitely worth my kids and me and him and his parents all getting together and then all apologizing to us because I feel like we’re all owed an apology.”

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Matthew Byard writes news, profiles, and stories of the Black Nova Scotia community. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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  1. Kelly Connors, the Acting Coordinator of Communications for HRCE lost all cred with this statement: **I can assure you that students involved in any form of racist behaviour would receive immediate and appropriate consequences for their actions … We have looked into the allegations at Admiral Westphal Elementary to ensure the Provincial School Code of Conduct was followed and appropriate actions were taken.** seeing as that’s exactly what did not happen and the “appropriate actions” were underwhelming at best.

    As for the principal who appears unable to handle the “racism file” she best get herself educated or find another job.