Back to school blues more like nightmares for two First Nations families

Return to school stressful for most students, but for two First Nations families it was particularly painful.

school

While many students and families feel stress because of COVID-19, other families also face bullying. Photo: APTN


For an 11-year-old First Nations girl in Kenora, Ont., the first day of school meant meeting her new bully.

“I picked up my daughter and she let me know she’d been called fat and ugly by this new girl in the school,” said Amanda Freeman. “I said let’s ignore this and don’t do anything. But then she told me the girl threatened to get her older sister (from a different school) to come ‘kick (her) ass.”

Freeman called the school immediately to have the matter addressed. The school had the two girls meeting in the library the next day for what the school calls a kindness and leadership talk.

The next week the situation escalated to the girls reportedly bumping into each other and Freeman’s daughter responding with a shove. She was held in the office until her mom got there and the family was advised if she ever did that again, she’d be suspended.

Mom took to social media to criticize the school and division’s handling of the situation and has pulled her daughter out of school. The division reached out to her not to fix the situation, but to demand she remove the social media post that was shared more than 300 times.

“We made the decision to keep her out of school because they have no plan to keep her safe,” Freeman said. The girl has missed as many days as she has spent in class so far this year.

The Keewatin-Patricia District School Board said in an email to APTN News they can’t comment on specific matters due to privacy concerns but in general, bullying is taken seriously and schools will work with families to resolve such issue.

There are also protocols in place if things aren’t resolved, including suspension or expulsion.

Freeman says a meeting with school officials and parents of the other girl is set for Monday.

“I need to know my daughter is going to be safe in class and even with the extra supports that were to have happened before, she wasn’t safe,” Freeman said.

Meanwhile in Brandon, Man., back to school kicked off with a nosebleed for an eight-year-old First Nations girl who was put in an isolation room in the school as a COVID-19 precaution before school officials called child welfare authorities to come get her.

“I was in a class and couldn’t have my phone on but when I checked, I saw the school had phoned,” said the mom, who cannot be named as she and her three children have an open file with child and family services (CFS).

“I called back 30 minutes after they called and they said they had to notify (child and family services) who came and took my daughter from the building. I’m wondering at that point if I’m ever going to see my daughter again? Am I a bad parent? Did I do something wrong?”

She got to the school and found her daughter in tears with a CFS caseworker who also seemed confused by how the situation unfolded.

“I thanked the worker and she left. But what happened really affected our lives — we were traumatized by this.”

She shared her story on social media and it was shared nearly 800 times.

Mom has custody of all her children and said her CFS file was to be closed long ago but paperwork was delayed by the pandemic. CFS isn’t listed on her children’s emergency contacts so she was shocked they’d be called.

Several meetings were held with school officials in the aftermath.

“One of my supports brought it up and asked them if the same thing would happen if she or her husband were busy at work and didn’t answer their phone, if the school would call CFS on them? They’re not Indigenous. The school said they don’t discriminate but she wondered if they were profiling us,” the mom said.

She also takes issue with the use of an isolation room for children – whether they have a nosebleed or COVID-19 symptoms.

“It’s basically a closet. My daughter was put in there and the door was closed on her and she was crying. I think they need to handle that differently.

Brandon School Division Supt. Marc Casavant said the matter has been worked out with all involved.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a lot of change in a short period of time … everyone is working hard to make schools a safe place for students and staff,” he said.

“We will review the processes followed in this situation in an effort to learn from them and allow for improvements going forward.”

The mom said she’s satisfied by how the division handled things and believes it won’t happen to another First Nations family.

“I’m still trying to absorb it all and let it sink in but I don’t think it will happen again,” she said, adding the assistant superintendent who attended the meeting and her girl’s teacher apologized and she accepted.

“Maybe because I did speak up they’ll take extra precautions. I’m hoping it makes everyone more aware and there will be some more compassion,” she said.

Host/Producer - Winnipeg

Melissa is a proud Red River Metis and award-winning journalist who has spent more 14 years covering crime, courts, politics, business and entertainment for newspapers in four provinces.
She then joined APTN Investigates in 2009 and APTN National News in 2018 and in that time has garnered numerous awards and nominations including from the World Indigenous Television Broadcasters Network (2013), Canadian Association of Journalists (2016, 2019) and Canadian Screen Awards (2018, 2019).