Parents and former staff of Fort Resolution’s Deninu School allege bullying and potential human rights violations have left some students afraid to attend classes.
The community’s only school has around 100 students from K-12. Some parents told Cabin Radio the issue has left them feeling helpless and even arranging for children to attend school in nearby towns.
Andreana Boucher, a former support teacher at Deninu School, said bullying and harassment at the school left her feeling forced out of Fort Resolution. A second former teacher who expressed similar concerns declined to speak on the record.
“When I first started in 2019, I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed,” Boucher told Cabin Radio. “I listened to everything, believed what my boss told me. That kind-of led me to becoming a scapegoat.”
The divisional education council that controls the school – and speaks on behalf of the principal and staff, who could not be interviewed for this report – told Cabin Radio many concerns were “misinformed” and things are now running as normal.
But Lisa Tudor, a parent of a child at the school, said a “coalition of concerned parents” remained frustrated after initially forming to discuss the high drop-out rate of both students and teachers over the past school year.
“It wasn’t just one or two students. It was dozens and dozens that were dropping out,” Tudor said. Seven teachers and 37 students are said by the parents’ group to have left the school, a number the divisional education council did not confirm.
“Having spoken with some of the students, they were dropping out because of things that were happening at the school, not because of personal reasons or anything,” said Tudor.
“They felt that they were unsupported, and that they were being bullied by teachers and staff.”
The group of parents has worked to hold a community meeting about the school.
“We got together a few times to discuss writing letters and not using hearsay, only people’s direct experiences, because it isn’t a witch hunt,” said Tudor.
“We’re not out to get anyone fired. What we want to see is accountability and change within the organization.”
‘Everything spreads here so quickly’
One parent, who asked for anonymity to discuss their child’s education in a small community, said they started sending their child to a school in another town because of the issues taking place.
They told Cabin Radio their child had started coming home from Deninu School in tears and had described being constantly yelled at by their teacher.
The child was “in tears every day” but would also come home with gifts from the teacher, the parent said, likening that to “a manipulation tactic.”
Another parent, who similarly requested anonymity to discuss their concerns, said their child had loved school but, last year, “it was like we had to peel them out of bed in the morning.”
The parent said their child alleged they had been bullied by staff members at the school, who were also encouraging other students to bully them.
“It’s not something that kids really make up,” the parent said. “I believed [them] because it’s not something [they] would’ve known to lie about.”
Both parents said they would have brought concerns forward earlier, if it weren’t for the size of Fort Resolution.
“Everything spreads here so quickly. Once you say something, the entire town knows,” one told Cabin Radio.
“I wrote a letter of concern to the principal and, the next day, I was told by a teacher that the letter was being circulated through the staff.”
Superintendent says concerns ‘misinformed’
Over the summer, parents sent letters to the superintendent at the time, Curtis Brown, as well as MLA Richard Edjericon and education minister RJ Simpson.
Edjericon has said he is working to collect letters of support and expects to raise the issue both with the minister and in the NWT legislature when MLAs next sit in October.
Simpson, responding to a group of parents by email, told them departmental officials had spoken with the South Slave Divisional Education Council’s new superintendent, Souhail Soujah. He told parents to raise their concerns with Soujah.
In a further email to Cabin Radio, Simpson wrote: “While I cannot comment on human resource issues, I know that creating positive learning environments and improving student outcomes is a goal of the GNWT, the South Slave Divisional Education Council, the Fort Resolution District Education Authority, and school staff and administration.”
Simpson stated that Soujah had met with Deninu School administration and staff to discuss the issues.
Soujah told Cabin Radio he had not been directly contacted by parents. He characterized the concerns brought to him as “misguided and misinformed.”
The superintendent said parents should raise concerns directly with the principal and then, if that does not resolve the issue, his role is to act as a mediator.
“This way,” he said, “we can hear both sides of the story, give the parents an opportunity to express their concerns, and give opportunities to the principal to answer these concerns.”
Soujah said SSDEC can, if needed, begin an investigative process to “see where the truth lies.” But he said the current concerns stem from what he called rumours and gossip, particularly claims in the community that certain teachers have been fired.
“We don’t fire people. The people who have left the school have done so of their own volition. It was a decision they made for various reasons,” he said, adding that some chose to leave for family reasons while others wanted to be in a city.
“Contracts are usually over two years. We have the right and the jurisdiction to not extend the contract. But we don’t terminate them.
“In those cases, the DEA was in support and it was well documented in regards to the process.”
Former employee plans human rights complaint
The DEA, or district education authority, is a local oversight board whose members are ordinarily elected by the community. Soujah says their approval of decisions is an indication of the community’s contentment with what is taking place.
But Tudor argues that so few people ran for seats on the DEA at the last election that all of its members were acclaimed, meaning no election actually took place.
“They are not a representation of the community,” Tudor told Cabin Radio.
She said a meeting involving local education officials is being held on Friday to further address concerns, though that was not immediately confirmed by the divisional education council.
Boucher says the abuse she faced was so severe that she plans to file a human rights complaint.
The former support teacher said her experience still hangs over her. For example, Boucher said, she was in the process of moving to Edmonton when a potential landlord asked for her previous employer as a reference.
The reference provided by the school “told the landlord that I can’t be trusted, that I’m shady, and that [the principal] didn’t give me permission to leave,” she said, alleging another teacher had endured a similar experience.
“The principal and staff have a big presence in our community,” said Boucher. “It makes it hard to speak up.”
Clarification: September 22, 2022 – 9:23 MT. This report initially stated a group of parents believed up to 50 students had left the school in the past year. After this article was first published, the parents’ group provided a more specific figure of 37 students, though that figure has not been confirmed by the school or the district. The article has been updated accordingly.