Alberta school division apologizes after students asked about positive effect of residential schools

Alberta school division apologizes after students asked about \positive effect\ of residential schools
Residential Schools question highlighting positive effect prompts apology from St. Paul superintendent
Alberta's education minister apologized Thursday for what he calls "hateful material" — an online social studies question that asked students about the "positive effect" of residential schools.

Education Minister David Eggen has also told Alberta Education to review material used by the Alberta Distance Learning Centre, the source of the material, to make sure its use is "immediately discontinued."

The St. Paul Alternate Education Centre, located in St. Paul, Alta., allows students to direct their own learning using provided packages of course material. A recent questionnaire, approved by the Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ADLC) and given to students at the St. Paul school, asked students to select “a positive effect of residential schools” from a list of provided options.

Alberta school apologizes after test asks students to identify positive effect of residential schools

A photo of the multiple-choice question was posted on social media by an outraged student, asking: "A positive effect of residential schools was" followed by four possible answers.

The St. Paul Alternate Education Centre, located in St. Paul, Alta., allows students to direct their own learning using provided packages of course material. A recent questionnaire, approved by the Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ADLC) and given to students at the St. Paul school, asked students to select “a positive effect of residential schools” from a list of provided options.

The choices were: children were away from home; children learned to read; children were taught manners; children became civilized.

Because students direct their own learning, Brodziak said he didn’t know how many students would have seen the test. The course material for Social Studies 20-4 course includes the questionnaire, but Brodziak couldn’t say how long the course has been used in the school or how many students may have taken, or are currently taking, the course.

"I was appalled to see such hurtful and offensive material given to an Alberta student," Eggen said in an emailed statement Thursday.

"I want to sincerely apologize to this student, their family, and anyone else who may have been exposed to this insensitive resource. There is no excuse for it — and there is no place for it in our schools.

Brodziak said there are students in his schools who are second, third and fourth generation survivors of residential schools and he said it’s their story to tell, not the school’s. The division Brodziak covers is about a 45-minute radius in all directions from St. Paul and has students from four surrounding First Nations.

"The legacy of residential schools is a dark period in our history, and we must journey together toward reconciliation. It is vital that this take place in a way that honours and brings awareness to the experiences of residential school survivors."

At an event in Bon Accord, north of Edmonton, Eggen said the offensive material underlines the importance of building new curriculum in the province, and for every Alberta school board to review its current curriculum material.

Residential schools in Canada were a network of institutions that began in the 1800s, with the last school closing in 1996. Over that period an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in the schools, where they were often forbidden to speak their own languages and abused.

"For this kind of material to be still floating around in 2018 is just beyond the pale," Eggen said.

Residential schools in Canada were a network of institutions that began in the 1800s, with the last school closing in 1996. Over that period an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in the schools, where they were often forbidden to speak their own languages and abused.

In his statement, Eggen said his deputy minister will contact every school board authority in the province Thursday "to ask them to take proactive steps to prevent students from being exposed to material like this."

Grades nine through 12 students attend the school and have access to the ADLC-approved course material, although Brodziak said sometimes they take younger students. He said teachers are in the classrooms to help students navigate the self-directed course material if they need it.

He said he will personally reach out "to the student who was subjected to this hateful material to apologize." The student will be invited to a roundtable on Indigenous education that Eggen is hosting next week, he said in the statement.

Eggen's statement followed an apology issued earlier Thursday by the superintendent of the St. Paul Education Regional Division.

According to the centre’s website, the course focuses on “Canada’s development as a nation and our role in the global community. Topics include Canada’s First Nations, the development of modern-day Canada, and Canada’s cultural diversity.”

"I can't take this back, so much that I wish I could, I take responsibility for it and for that I am truly sorry," Glen Brodziak told CBC News.

According to the centre’s website, the course focuses on “Canada’s development as a nation and our role in the global community. Topics include Canada’s First Nations, the development of modern-day Canada, and Canada’s cultural diversity.”

Brodziak said the student is taking a social studies class by correspondence with St. Paul Alternate Education Centre.

A photo of the multiple-choice question was posted on social media by an outraged student, asking: "A positive effect of residential schools was" followed by four possible answers.

ADLC has yet to respond to StarMetro after requests for comment. Brodziak said they’ve been partners for a long time and said the distance learning centre has been “a good partner” overall.

Alongside the photo the student wrote: "My teacher got me all the way f–ked up if he actually expects me to answer this s–t. F–king disgusted."

David Garbutt, superintendent of Pembina Hills Public Schools, which oversees the Alberta Distance Learning Centre, said he hasn't been able to determine when the "inappropriate" material was developed.

"It appears it was some years back because it adhered to an old system that we have," Garbutt said.

“We will be reaching out to our four Nations and we will also be putting a message out explaining how this occurred, but also acknowledging our part in it and I am sorry for this.”

"But regardless, it's inappropriate, it's out of line. We have deleted it and we're going to be reviewing all of our course content to ensure that this never happens again."

“We will be reaching out to our four Nations and we will also be putting a message out explaining how this occurred, but also acknowledging our part in it and I am sorry for this.”

Angela Wolfe, associate director of the University of Alberta's Aboriginal Teacher Education Program, said the question posed to students is disrespectful, including to her own mother, a residential school survivor who recently died.

“My role as a school superintendent, but really almost more importantly as a Canadian, I acknowledge that this is wrong. I can’t imagine what residential schools were like.”

"I find it disturbing, highly disrespectful," Wolfe said. "And I mean disrespectful yes, to my mom, to myself, but I'm talking about disrespectful to those students who are having to answer this question.

“My role as a school superintendent, but really almost more importantly as a Canadian, I acknowledge that this is wrong. I can’t imagine what residential schools were like.”

"We are failing our students, all students in the school system, with questions like this."

Brodziak was notified late Wednesday night and saw posts on social media with the photo of the questionnaire. The posts on Facebook and Twitter sparked outrage among many people commenting.

It is a priority for CBC to create a website that is accessible to all Canadians including people with visual, hearing, motor and cognitive challenges.

Brodziak was notified late Wednesday night and saw posts on social media with the photo of the questionnaire. The posts on Facebook and Twitter sparked outrage among many people commenting.

The superintendent of the St. Paul school division is apologizing after a student circulated a social studies question online asking about the “positive effect of residential schools.”

“We take responsibility for it, that we should be checking out our resources and checking out what’s in front of our students,” said Brodziak.

This question appears in course material prepared by the Alberta Distance Learning Centre in its Social Studies 20-4 package. Supplied

The superintendent of the St. Paul school division is apologizing after a student circulated a social studies question online asking about the “positive effect of residential schools.”

The four possible answers were; children were away from home, children learned to read, children were taught manners and children became civilized.

“As a Canadian, this is wrong. I can’t imagine what residential schools were like, nor would I speak on behalf of any survivor,” Glen Brodziak, superintendent of the St. Paul Education Regional Division, said in a Thursday interview.

The four possible answers were; children were away from home, children learned to read, children were taught manners and children became civilized.

Overtop the picture was a comment reading, “My teacher got me all the way f—-ed up if he actually expects me to answer this s–t. F—ing disgusted.”

Brodziak said the student attends the St. Paul Alternative Education Centre, where they are enrolled in Social Studies 20-4 by correspondence. The Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ADLC) created and supplied the course material, he said. The question was at the end of a reading unit to help students review the material, Brodziak said.

A picture of the questionnaire started making rounds on social media late Wednesday night and appeared to originate from a student’s family.

Although ADLC created the course material, St. Paul educators should have more carefully reviewed it, Brodziak said, and he takes responsibility for the question making it before students. The division will send a memo to all staff to remind them to review all course material and resources for inappropriate content or inaccurate information.

Glen Brodziak, division superintendent for the school division, confirmed to StarMetro Thursday the test was real, but a mistake.

The school division contacted ADLC, which has removed the question from its online version of the course, but it remains in the paper version, Brodziak said.

The superintendent responsible for ADLC, which is based in Barrhead, was not immediately available Thursday morning.

Students from four nearby First Nations attend St. Paul division schools, and Brodziak will be speaking with leaders there about the incident.

Federal government policy saw thousands of Indigenous children across Canada taken from their homes and enrolled in schools designed to assimilate them with european culture. Survivors have shared stories of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of school staff, being chastised for speaking Indigenous languages and becoming pregnant by school priests.

The inter-generational trauma caused by the schools has prompted apologies from the Canadian and provincial governments and lawsuits saw compensation paid to survivors. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard survivor stories from across the country and made 94 recommendations for how governments and society can address the harm, including educating students about the harms of residential schools.

Alberta’s Education Minister David Eggen has said learning about residential schools will become mandatory in the new K-12 curriculum, which is currently under development. The government is spending $5.4 million training Alberta teachers how to deliver those sensitive lessons.