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SD57 appoints new leadership after resignations over systemic racism concerns

Trustees Sharel Warrington and Ron Polillo now leading the board
SD57 new positions
Trustee Sharel Warrington is now Chair of the Board of Education and Ron Polillo is Vice-Chair.

Following the resignations of School District 57 (SD57) board chair Trent Derrick and vice-chair Shuirose Valimohamed, the Board of Education has appointed a new chair and vice chair.

Trustee Sharel Warrington will now sit as board chair and Trustee Ron Polillo is now vice-chair. A byelection to replace the two vacant seats at the board table will now occur in both Prince George and Mackenzie. A byelectons officer will be appointed within 30 days of the Trustees' resignations and the byelection will happen within 80 days of the appointment of the officer. 

Derrick and Valimohamed announced their resignations yesterday (Sept. 13) and both cited the special’s advisor’s report which found systemic anti-Indigenous racism and a “substantial culture of fear” within the district, as a reason for departure.

“I can no longer be part of the Board of Education or a system that this report has shown to be racist, a culture of fear and broken,” stated Derrick, adding that as a First Nations Leader he felt his voice was not met at the table.

Valimohamed also cited the special advisor's report in her resignation letter, adding that as a minority person of colour she felt “muzzled” and “never felt safe in any meetings nor at the public board table.”

“We were very saddened to learn they had made a decision to resign. It came as a shock to members of the board and we were extremely sad to know we were losing two valued members,” said Warrington, during a press conference at the school board offices.

Warrington said both Derrick and Valimohamed served the district with passion since they were elected in 2018.

“Their letters of resignation spoke to us of the issues we need to continue to address and we thank both Trent Derrick and Shuirose Valimohamed for their service to the students and to SD57.”

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside had appointed special advisors Kory Wilson and Catherine McGregor to review governance practices at SD57 in February and the district received the report on Aug. 26.

The report was based on 56 interviews and a review of documents that found Indigenous students are disproportionately held back, placed in alternative programs or classes and removed from the typical graduation path.

“It was a difficult and challenging report not only to read but to receive. It has presented us with challenges we need to address,” said Warrington.  

“The board has had the opportunity to meet with the advisors. We have had an opportunity to share our thoughts on the findings and the recommendations moving forward. The board has embraced this critical and necessary work to address the recommendations.”

The special advisors along with former school district superintendent Rod Allen are working with the board and the district to address the 45 recommendations outlined within the report.

“We have already started some of that work, but we have a long way to go to rebuild the trust and relationships with Indigenous people in our district, First Nations and Indigenous leaders,” said Warrington.

“We need to address and focus on decolonization, Indigenizing and the very significant issue of systemic racism. We must address systemic racism as we are called upon to do.”

The special advisors will submit a final report to outline the progress made by the board in meeting the government’s expectations in March 2022.

“Both Shuirose and Trent are absolutely entitled to their thoughts and feelings about how they felt they were included or not. I can only say, that all voices at the board table need to be respected and need to be heard and our process should always be that expectation that every voice matters,” said Warrington.

“Shurioise's and Trent’s resignations letters indicated their concerns and issues. The board will be addressing the issues and concerns from the recommendations.”

- with files from the Canadian Press