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Parents at St John’s-Ravenscourt raise concerns over bullying and Israeli and Hamas response to war at school

Parents at St John’s-Ravenscourt raise concerns over bullying and Israeli and Hamas response to war at school
Parents at St John’s-Ravenscourt raise concerns over bullying and Israeli and Hamas response to war at school

A group of parents is calling on the leadership of a Winnipeg private school to take a more conciliatory approach to addressing tensions surrounding the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. The group is concerned about bullying and the school’s response to the conflict.

The parents claim that there have been problems at St John’s-Ravenscourt, an independent primary and secondary school, since the conflict began, in a move that one expert said reflected the stress the ongoing conflict is causing in the wider community.

Several parents, whom CBC is not naming out of concern about negative reactions to their children, said their group first reached out to the school after the school sent a letter to families on Oct. 12, 2023, in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks on Israel that sparked the latest conflict.

A copy of the letter, obtained by CBC, said in part: “SJR condemns terrorism and violence. Our emphasis is on eliminating hate in any form.

“We support the Canadian government’s position that the glorification of violence by terrorist groups like Hamas is unacceptable and has no place in our society.”

One parent who spoke to CBC says the letter was one-sided.

“No one, anywhere, would claim that what Hamas did that day was right or justified,” the parent said.

“But you can’t collectively portray one group of people as terrorists or whatever, and the other group collectively, as always, as victims, without looking at it through the lens of historical context.”

Israel began its military campaign in Gaza in October last year, after Hamas militants invaded southern Israel on October 7, killing some 1,200 people and abducting around 250.

Since then, Israeli ground offensives and bombardments have killed more than 37,900 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s health ministry. The war has largely cut off the flow of food, medicine and basic supplies to Gaza, leaving people there entirely dependent on aid.

According to SJR parents, since October 7 there have been cases of bullying against students who went to school wearing a keffiyeh – the checkered black-and-white scarf long worn by Palestinians and often seen at pro-Palestinian protests.

“While I cannot definitively link the harassment they experienced to their attempt to openly identify as Muslim and their support for the Palestinian people, I can tell you that after they chose to identify themselves with great fear, the harassment escalated significantly,” one father told CBC.

He said a group of students, including his child, wore keffiyehs on Anti-Bullying Day in May “with great fear and concern,” and also on a day when students were encouraged to wear cultural clothing.

“There were a few instances where my child wore a keffiyeh, and I’m afraid this has led to more bullying,” the parent said.

Some parents worry that their children will be bullied for showing up at school wearing a keffiyeh. (Ron Dhaliwal/CBC)

A parent of another child said of a complaint about bullying: “The parents called the school, but the school did nothing.”

“We have not seen anything serious and no formal measures have been taken to protect this child at school,” the mother told CBC.

The parents say they have raised their concerns directly with the school, but they do not feel the issues they raised have been adequately addressed.

The father said requests for a meeting with the school were denied.

“If parents can’t even talk about the problems or have a conversation with the school about the fact that they are spending a lot of money to send their children to study there, then that is substandard treatment,” the father said.

“At the end of the day, this is a private school,” said another parent. “I guess I could pull my kids out if I didn’t like it… but I think this is a symptom of a bigger problem in our society.”

‘Welcoming place’ for all students: headmaster

Jim Keefe, principal of St. John’s-Ravenscourt, said in an email response to questions from CBC that the school strives “to be a welcoming place for students and families, regardless of their background or faith.”

He declined to comment directly on specific concerns raised by parents.

“We do not discuss specific issues affecting students and/or families in order to protect their privacy,” Keefe said.

“The school has a code of conduct and when concerns are brought to the attention of the school they are investigated thoroughly. If a family has ongoing concerns they should raise these with the school.”

Keefe said the school is not faith-based and is a community of students and families from diverse backgrounds and beliefs, including local and international families.

Jim Keefe, principal of St. John’s-Ravenscourt, says the school strives to be “a welcoming place for students and families, regardless of their background or faith.” (Ron Dhaliwal/CBC)

CBC reached out to the Manitoba Federation of Independent Schools, which represents private schools in the province, to ask how other schools are dealing with the conflict.

Executive Director Andrew Micklefield said the organisation is not a school board and does not speak on behalf of schools.

The federation “has not received any requests for advice on this matter and respects the independence of each school in responding to its own school community,” he said in an email.

Creating a Safe Space: Expert

Adam Muller, a professor of peace and conflict studies at the University of Manitoba, said the issues cited by parents may reflect the “stress and tension” and “hurt and insult” the conflict is causing many.

“This is a messy, protracted and extremely complex conflict, with claims on both sides about justice and injustice,” he said.

“Even the international courts are challenged to judge coherently when it comes to, for example, the claim that genocide has been committed in Gaza. So we should not expect the schools to have an easier time.”

Adam Muller, professor of peace and conflict studies at the University of Manitoba, will be seen in Winnipeg on Thursday, October 26, 2023. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Muller said the Oct. 7 attacks occurred while he was teaching a genocide studies class at the University of Minnesota, which included both pro-Palestinian and Jewish students.

He said it was important to create a safe space where students could exchange perspectives.

“We ultimately took a step back and took the time to talk about what it would take to make the classroom a safe space to do the work we’re there to do,” Muller said.

But “it’s one thing to say you need it. It’s another thing to actually secure it,” he said.

“I found it, to say the least, delicate work.”

Muller isn’t sure how successful it was, but the first thing they did was set up ground rules so students could say things that didn’t have personal implications for each other.

While that may be more challenging with younger students, he said it’s important for teachers and school leaders to take the time to ensure students are recognized and considerate of others.

Students themselves may “suffer from other students or be in conflict with them,” he said.

Schools, he said, need a process “to address the conflict that does not lead to segregation, that does not favor one group over another … that actually brings people together and helps resolve what divides them.”

Parents at Winnipeg private school raise concerns about bullying after Israel-Hamas war

A group of parents are calling on the leadership of St John’s-Ravenscourt School to adopt a more conciliatory approach to dealing with tensions surrounding the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. The group is concerned about bullying and the school’s response to the conflict.