The Greater Victoria School District came under fire last week after their budget survey asked participants to rank Indigenous learners’ success against that of non-Indigenous learners. The question has since been removed. (Black Press Media file photo)

The Greater Victoria School District came under fire last week after their budget survey asked participants to rank Indigenous learners’ success against that of non-Indigenous learners. The question has since been removed. (Black Press Media file photo)

SD61 budget survey question ranks Indigenous learners’ success against others

Question since removed following public backlash

Many Greater Victoria parents were enraged last week when the school district’s budget survey asked them to rank the importance of Indigenous students’ needs against those of non-Indigenous ones.

The Budget Prioritization Survey, which ended May 5, was intended to give concerned community members an opportunity to communicate priorities and concerns surrounding the Greater Victoria School District’s (SD61) 2021-22 budget and $7 million deficit.

But multiple questions left parents feeling offended.

“There are huge issues of equity here,” Jen Stewart, who has two kids in the district, said.

She’s referencing question 5 – which has since been removed – in particular. In it, the survey asked participants to choose which of three goals they thought needed the most investment: supporting all learners’ personal and academic success, supporting Indigenous learners’ personal and academic success, or supporting all learners’ physical and mental well-being.

READ ALSO: SD61’s proposed $7 million cuts threaten equity and inclusion, say parents, teachers

“It’s so contrary to the principles of reconciliation, to include Indigenous success as something you can rank higher or lower and to be decided by majority rules,” Stewart said.

Carey Newman, a parent and district Indigenous ad hoc committee member, said the district does a good job of supporting average and exceptional students, but it fails to meet the needs of Indigenous students and students with anxiety or different learning abilities. What the survey question failed to understand, Newman said, is that by supporting Indigenous learners the district would be supporting all.

“By asking people to rank that question, they’re asking people to rank basic rights,” he said.

READ ALSO: Indigenous man walks Greater Victoria to honour missing and murdered women and girls

Following an influx of negative feedback, the district removed the question earlier this week. Board chair Jordan Watters said the data from the question won’t be included in their decision-making process.

“It was inappropriate,” she agreed.

For parents, issues remained though. Another question asked survey takers to rank possible budget-cutting areas from least to most important. But, Stewart said, everything on the list – music, support staff, meal programs and mental health resources, among others – is essential to students.

“There you’re getting into human rights issues,” she said, noting that meals and supports for students with learning disabilities should never be up for debate.

The district needs to tighten everyone’s belts a little, rather than cutting certain programs entirely, Newman said, because once they’re gone they’ll likely never come back. In its April 27 meeting, the SD61 board did vote to reallocate some funds from administration back into music programs and education assistants. Band will now be offered to students in Grades 6 to 8.

Watters said the trustees will be considering all the data and feedback they have ahead of their May 17 budget vote.

READ ALSO: Province funds $750k to help CRD tackle toxic algae blooms in Saanich lakes


Do you have a story tip? Email: jane.skrypnek@blackpress.ca.

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