A Vancouver Island school district is looking at updating its anti-discrimination policy.

During last month’s board meeting, Comox Valley trustees passed a motion to update the language and intent of its policy.

During the meeting trustee Janice Caton said this is perfect timing to review the policy, in line with the Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ movements “and all what’s going on.”

The process will involve a committee of education partners, stakeholders. And students who, starting this month, will meet to draft the new policy. 

In a statement, the district said “we must continue to make changes necessary until all our students feel welcomed and cared for. Every child deserves an education free from discrimination, bullying, harassment, intimidation, and violence.”

This comes on the heels of an online photo and essay project called ‘Kill Yourself’ created by former student Mackai Sharp. 

You can link to it here.

Sharp says sharing his own story puts a face behind discrimination.

“I landed on the concept of a photo series just because of the amount of empathy that can be generated through visual media and specifically connecting the viewers with one person through their eyes, looking into their emotions, their expressions.”

Sharp says he wanted people for people to understand what kind of impact those words can have, especially on a young person who is new to the world.

“Generating empathy, that is the name of the game,” he said.

In the project, Sharp says since leaving public school in 2017 – on a month to month basis – “I’ve been followed, threatened and constantly reminded of my place in society.”

Sharp says the scars remain: “A form of anxiety will still present itself when I revisit the locations that these situations had happened and the problem is, it’s not just someone’s house, it’s at the grocery store that I shop at and it’s at the school around the corner from my house. It’s not always present but I definitely still remember and it brings me back.” 

He says school District 71 “has not adequately dealt with instances of harassment far beyond my own, that is fact. Situation after situation from students across the district have been made aware to teachers, counselors and principals to no resolution.”

Sharp says the district hopes the revised anti-discriminatory policy becomes more than words.

“You could have all the policy in the world, but if it is still not affecting the  students, if the teachers aren’t trained to handle these types of situations, if there isn’t enough support, this inclusivity goes out the window.”

The district says the ERASE (expect respect and a safe education) strategy is a Government of BC program that our District follows and designed to help ensure every child feels safe, accepted and respected.

“ERASE is all about building safe and caring school communities. This includes empowering students, parents, educators, and the community partners who support them to get help with challenges, report concerns to schools, and learn about complex issues facing students today,” the district said in the statement.

“Erase includes a reporting system that allows for anonymous reporting of any instance of bullying, intolerance or discrimination.”