Racial Incidents
by Loraine Thompson Information Services Ltd.
SSTA Research Centre Report #92-05: 20 pages, $11
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School systems have an obligation to facilitate learning. A racial incident, unfortunate as it is, can also be alearning opportunity. Students, staff and community members can learn not only that racially biased behaviour is wrong, but also why it is wrong. They can develop a personal commitment to equality and learn new ways of thinking and acting. Appropriate management of racial incidents can turn a negative, unacceptable episode into one with positive outcomes.

This resource is intended to assist Boards of Education and their administrators to develop policy for handling racial incidents. The booklet emphasizes the process that is used to plan policy and the content of racial incidents policies.

Policy Development
  • What is a Racial Incident?
  • Why a Policy on Racial Incidents?
  • Planning for Policy Development
  • Involving the Community
  • Policy Considerations
  • Statement of Philosophy
  • Policy Statement
  • Definition
  • Legal Reference
  • Guidelines for Handling Racial Incidents
  • Racial Incidents Policy Development Worksheet
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    The SSTA Research Centre grants permission to reproduce up to three copies of each report for personal use. Each copy must acknowledge the author and the SSTA Research Centre as the source. A complete and authorized copy of each report is available from the SSTA Research Centre.
    The opinions and recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author and may not be in agreement with SSTA officers or trustees, but are offered as being worthy of consideration by those responsible for making decisions.


    The goals of education for Saskatchewan begin with the following statement:

    The goals of education recognize the inherent worth and value of each individual. Education, then, should develop the potential of each person to the fullest extent.

    We will have moved a step closer to achieving this very important goal, if racial incidents that occur in the school system are recognized and handled in ways that emphasize the dignity and worth of all individuals. Children can better develop their full potential if they feel pride in their racial or ethnic heritage and if they learn to appreciate the intrinsic worth of all other human beings.

    Students, parents and employees have a right to expect that they will be allowed to work and learn in an environment free of any expressions of racial or ethnic bias by students, staff and trustees. As a school system, we have a responsibility to lead by example - to illustrate to students, teachers, and communities that appropriate handling of racial incidents can reduce tensions and ultimately contribute to greater harmony.

    School systems have an obligation to facilitate learning. A racial incident, unfortunate as it is, can also be a learning opportunity. Students, staff and community members can learn, not only that racially biased behaviour is wrong, but also why it is wrong. They can develop a personal commitment to equality and learn new ways of thinking and acting. Appropriate management of racial incidents can turn a negative, unacceptable episode into one with positive outcomes.

    This booklet is intended to be a tool in that process. It is designed to assist Boards of Education and their administrators to develop policy for handling racial incidents. The booklet emphasizes the process that is used to plan policy and the content of racial incidents policies.

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    What is a Racial Incident?

    A racial incident is:

    A verbal or physical expression of racial or ethnic bias which exhibits a negative attitude, disparagement, or hatred toward a person's or group's race, colour or ethno-cultural heritage (including racial/ethnic slurs, jokes, and stereotyping as well as threats, abuse, intimidation or assault).

    Some examples of racial incidents include:


    Mark, a white student, is overheard in the hallway between classes by Ms. Williams making a derogatory racial comment to several classmates about the Metis people. The other students laugh uproariously.


    The grade two students are forming a circle to play a singing game. Louise, an Aboriginal student, refuses to hold hands with Martha, a white student. She says that her mother told her she isn't allowed to play with white kids.


    Ms. Johns, a new secretary in the school is overheard by Ms. Richards, the Principal, saying to an Indian student from the nearby reserve, that he must need a late slip because he is operating on "Indian Time".


    Mr. Lewis, the high school social studies teacher, is teaching Canadian history. There are no Black students in the class. When he talks about Black settlements in eastern Canada he makes disparaging remarks about Black people and about slaves.


    The Chairperson of the District Board of Trustees, Mr. Jacks, following his report to the Annual Meeting at the school, was overheard by another member of the board telling a racial joke.

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    Why a Policy on Racial Incidents?

    1. A racial incidents policy tells the world clearly and unequivocally that racial incidents are wrong and won't be tolerated. It indicates that the Board of Education recognizes that such incidents conflict with the goal of developing all students to their maximum potential. A policy is a statement of philosophy and belief as well as direction for action.

    2. The objective of the educational system is to educate students, staff and members of the public. A racial incidents policy is an important educational tool because it provides a basis for a whole range of educational responses to racial incidents.

    A racial incidents policy also may:

    · legitimate, clarify and/or reaffirm existing practices

    · focus attention on an existing issue or problem

    · indicate to the community that there will be a significant change in the way that the Board of Education and individual schools handle racial incidents.

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    Planning for Policy Development

    There are a number of approaches to race relations. Multiculturalism addresses the need to respond to a variety of cultural perspectives, equity policies ensure representative staffing and a racial incidents policy deals specifically with the incidents that are unacceptable in the education community.

    Writing a policy on racial incidents does not mean that those incidents will automatically disappear. Making that happen will take the combined efforts of trustees, students, teachers and the community. It will be more likely to happen if policy development is treated as a process - an opportunity to begin an ongoing dialogue with the community - rather than as an end in itself.

    Finalization of a policy is, in one sense, the end of a process, but it is also a beginning. It is an opportunity for ongoing involvement of all those individuals and groups that contributed to the development of the policy and an opportunity for both formal and informal education for all students, parents and community members on the topic of race relations.

    Planning is the key to successful development of a racial incidents policy. Typical steps in the planning process are:

    · Identify the need and develop a rationale for the policy.

    · Consult with other Boards of Education that have developed similar policies. Their experiences may be informative.

    · Identify stakeholder groups. (Virtually everyone in the community may be a potential stakeholder.)

    · Develop strategies for getting input from stakeholder groups. (Several different strategies may be used at several different points in the process.)

    · Identify strategies to keep the Board informed of progress.

    · Begin implementation of the plan.

    · Periodically assess the plan and make adjustments to the process if required.

    · Finalize policy.

    · Use the policy as a springboard for ongoing education about racism.

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    Involving the Community

    Ideas for making the policy a focus for ongoing interaction with the community include:

    Before policy development begins:

    · Listen carefully to any concerns expressed by community members about racism in the school or the community.

    · Explain to students, teachers and community members that such a policy will contribute to the quality of education.

    · Provide examples of the types of incidents that the policy is directed toward.

    · Explain the process that will be used to develop the policy.

    During policy development:

    · Involve students, teachers, Board members and community members in writing, reviewing and revising drafts of the policy.

    · Use the development process as a springboard for educational activities (lessons, workshops, seminars) about racism.

    · Provide information to the public about the need for such a policy and about the way that the policy will benefit school and community.

    After the policy has been completed:

    · Use the policy as a foundation for ongoing public education about racism.

    · Continue dialogue with the community about the need for such a policy.

    · Emphasize to the community that the responsibility for appropriate handling and eventual elimination of racial incidents rests with everyone.

    · Create structures so that people with interest and concerns in this area can learn from each other. This may include making the policy the focus of inservice seminars, staff meetings or administrator's conferences.

    Two Saskatchewan school boards, Regina Public and Prince Albert Separate, are currently in the process of writing policies which address racial incidents. In both cases, provisions for handling racial incidents are part of a broader policy. In Regina, they are included in a policy on race relations, in Prince Albert in a policy on race, ethnic and gender relations. The processes used by each of these boards to develop its policy are described below:

    Although there are minor differences, the two processes are very similar. Both begin with identification of need and development of a plan. The plan in each case involves getting input from stakeholder groups at several stages during the process. In both cases, development and community education are so closely interwoven as to be indivisible.

    Regina Public School Board

    Identification of Need

    A Multicultural Symposium sponsored by the Board is attended by 50 representatives from community organizations and 50 members of the Board's staff. One suggestion emerging from small group discussions is development of a race relations policy.

    Planning for Policy Development

    The Human Rights Equity plan prepared by the Regina Public School Board included the following processes:

    · Draft Human Rights Equity policy (addressing race, ethnicity, gender, religion and abilities) is prepared and is taken to the Board along with a consultation time-line.

    · Draft policy is sent to the partners in education and to community organizations for commentary and feedback.

    · Second draft of the policy is prepared incorporating feedback received from partners in education and community organizations.

    · Second draft is sent to school principals who are asked to discuss it with their staffs and provide feedback.

    · Feedback from teachers and principals indicates a need for specific guidelines - instructions about what to do if the policy is violated.

    · Guidelines are prepared along with a glossary and commentaries on sections of the policy.

    · Total system-wide review of the policy is held.

    · A mini-symposium is held. The 100 people who attended the original Multicultural Symposium (along with some others) are invited to attend. Policy is reviewed and suggestions for improvement are made.

    · Policy is sent to parent advisory groups for review. Each parent advisory group is asked to select two representatives to attend a meeting concerning the policy.

    · A third draft of the policy is prepared incorporating all feedback received during consultations.

    · Third draft of the policy is taken before the Policy Advisory Committee (a Board/Administration group) for review.

    · Final draft of the policy is prepared incorporating suggestions made by the Policy Advisory Committee.

    · Final draft of the policy is presented to the Board of Education along with an action plan for its implementation.

    Prince Albert Separate School Board

    Identification of Need

    Principles of Christian belief underlying the Separate School System suggest that a race, ethnic and gender relations policy is highly appropriate in a community with a large Aboriginal population.

    Planning for Policy Development

    The plan prepared by the Prince Albert Separate School Board included the following processes:

    · Sample race/gender relations policies are obtained from major Canadian school boards and are reviewed.

    · Draft race, ethnic and gender relations policy is prepared.

    · Draft policy is shared with major stakeholder groups in the community. Representatives from these groups are invited to a meeting to discuss the policy.

    · Draft policy is distributed to schools - teachers and principals are invited to provide written feedback.

    · Second draft of policy is prepared incorporating feedback received from stakeholders, teachers and administrators.

    · Second draft is presented to the Board for approval in principle.

    · Second draft is distributed to community stakeholders, and to teachers and principals for review.

    · Meetings are held with parent advisory councils at each school - policy is discussed in small groups.

    · Written input is received and a third draft policy is written. Board of Education, school principals and parent advisory councils meet to discuss and recommend changes.

    Remember, your job as a Board of Education is to provide leadership and to set the stage so that students, teachers and the community develop a sense of ownership over the policy. Only when these groups feel that the policy is truly theirs will it become integrated into everyday educational practice.

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    Some Boards of Education will have a separate policy on racial incidents, others will choose to incorporate it into a broader policy on racial and/or ethnic relations. In either case, a number of factors should be considered when developing policy. These include:

    Statement of Philosophy

    A statement of philosophy tells staff, students and the public the reasons for the policy. Many racial incidents policies make reference to provincial, national or international documents that address equality. You may wish to refer to some of the documents listed below in the philosophy section of your policy on racial incidents.

    The Saskatchewan Education Act (1978)

    143. (1) Subject to sections 153, 154 and 156, no teacher, trustee, director, superintendent or other school official shall in any way deprive, or attempt to deprive, a pupil of access to, or the advantage of, the educational services approved and provided by the board of education.

    227. A teacher shall be responsible, in co-operation with staff colleagues and administrative authorities, for the advancement of the educational standards and efficiency of the school, participation in educational planning by the staff and the board of education, and the regular advancement of personal professional competence and, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, the teacher shall:

    (a) diligently and faithfully teach the pupils in the educational program assigned to him by the principal;

    (b) plan and organize the learning activities of the class with due regard for individual differences and needs of the pupils;

    The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code

    13. (1) Every person and every class of persons shall enjoy the right to education in any school, college, university or other institutions or place of learning, vocational training or apprenticeship without discrimination because of his or their race, creed, religion, color, sex, marital status, disability, nationality, ancestry or place of origin.

    United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

    Article 1

    All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

    United Nations Declaration of Rights of the Child (1957)

    Principle 10

    The child shall be protected from practises which may foster racial, religious and any other forms of discrimination. He shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace and universal brotherhood, and in full conscience that his energy and talents should be devoted to this principle of his fellow man.

    The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982)

    Section 15 came into force on April 17th, 1985:

    Equality Rights

    15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law, without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religious, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

    The Canadian Multiculturalism Act (1988)

    (1) It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Government of Canada to:

    Section 1 (C) promote the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society and assist them in the elimination of any barrier to such participation.

    In the philosophy section of your racial incidents policy you may want to refer to the Goals of Education in Saskatchewan which begins by stating:

    The goals of education recognize the inherent worth and value of each individual. Education, then should develop the potential of each person to the fullest extent.

    Separate school boards will almost certainly want to refer to the principles of Christian belief upon which the separate school system is based.

    Policy Statement

    The policy statement should state clearly and concisely the Board's position on racial incidents. Most policy statements indicate that the Board opposes/rejects/condemns any expression of racial prejudice by its students, staff and trustees. This portion of the policy may also state:

    · that the Board has a responsibility to educate the community about the racial incidents policy and about the reasons for its development.

    · that racial differences will be recognized and valued.

    · the relationship of the racial incidents policy to other Board policies. For example, there may be some overlap between the racial incidents policy and the discipline policy. Some school boards specify that their racial incidents policy permeates all other areas and that other policies will be adapted as necessary.


    Racial incidents can take many forms including name calling, racial jokes, graffiti and teasing, comments that perpetuate stereotypes, as well as physical violence. The definition used in your policy should be broad enough to include all of these types of incidents. If you feel that examples are needed, include them in an appendix to the policy rather than in the policy itself.

    Legal Reference

    All individuals are afforded equal treatment under Saskatchewan law regardless of their skin color, or their racial or ethnic origin. The appropriate handling of racial incidents is a legal matter as well as an ethical one. You may want to include a legal reference in your policy. The legal references most frequently used are:

    · The Education Act (1978) Section 227 (a) and (b) and Section 143 (1)

    · The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code Section 13 (1)

    Guidelines for Handling Racial Incidents

    Your policy should tell everyone affected what they are expected to do if a racial incident occurs. Some suggestions for writing the guidelines include:

    · Be as specific as possible when describing responsibilities and duties. What is the teacher's responsibility? What is the responsibility of the principal, of the director of education, of the Board of Education?

    · Provide for different types of incidents including student/student, student/staff, staff/staff, and school/community.

    - Provide for a range of responses to racial incidents. The most appropriate response depends upon the nature of the offence, and the position and age of the people involved. For example, in student/student incidents responses might include:

    When providing for responses to incidents involving teachers, ensure that the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation Teachers' Code of Ethics is observed.

    - School/community incidents might involve parents, Board members, guest speakers at the school or a member of the general public. Possible responses in school/community incidents include:

    Emphasize the importance of dealing with incidents immediately - not days after they occur.

    · Specify that the police will be involved if incidents involve any criminal offence such as racially motivated bodily harm or vandalism.

    · Specify clearly the consequences of inappropriate behaviour. Ensure that racial incidents are handled in ways that provide opportunities for future learning. The purpose of a racial incidents policy is to change the offender's behaviour as well as to:

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    1. Is there a need for a racial incidents policy in your school/school division?


    2. Who are the stakeholder groups in your community that would have an interest in a racial incidents policy?


    3. How would you get input from the various stakeholder groups in your community?


    4. What individual or group would write the drafts of your policy?


    5. How would you involve the Board of Education?


    6. How would you keep them informed of feedback received from community groups?


    7. How would you use the process of developing a racial incidents policy to educate students, teachers, parents and community members as well as to get their input concerning the policy?


    8. What aspects of your plan might need to be adapted as you proceed with the development of the racial incidents policy?


    9. What is the first thing you would do after the final version of the racial incidents policy was formally adopted by the Board?


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    Definition of a racial incident from:

    · Toronto Board of Education. (n.d.). Handling of racial incidents. Toronto: Advisor on Race Relations, Equal Opportunity Office, The Board. Used with permission

    Examples of racial incidents adapted from handout material distributed at the Education Equity Seminar, held January 21, 1991, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

    Portions of the section "Why a Policy on Racial Incidents?" from handout material distributed at the Education Equity Seminar held January 21, 1991, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

    Regina Public Board of Education

    Prince Albert Separate Board of Education

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