Schools aim for harmony
Officials hammer out action plan. Four girls charged in beating to be arraigned in Youth Court today and tomorrow
JAN RAVENSBERGEN, The [Montreal] Gazette
Published: Tuesday, October 23
The action plan is to replace discord with harmony in Montreal North – and avoid or defuse any more confrontations, especially with racial overtones.
Details, though, remained somewhat loose yesterday.
“We’re going to let the students guide us, in terms of what they feel” are appropriate ways “to bring down the tension,” said Antonio Lacroce, director-general of the English Montreal School Board.
“We’re going to use our best ambassadors, our students,” he added on the eve of this morning’s return to classes by 3,600 adolescents at Lester B. Pearson High School and École secondaire Henri Bourassa.
The schools neighbour each other.
Since last Wednesday, the area has been torn by a flare-up of inter-school violence and vandalism.
Racial tension has been thrust into the public spotlight with a shocking, 64-second video of two white, female, 14-year-old Pearson students being repeatedly punched and kicked.
The video, posted briefly on YouTube and promptly handed over to police by area parents last Thursday, shows the majority of the assailants are black females.
Four female Henri Bourassa students have been charged with assault in connection with the attacks, said Constable Lynne Labelle of Montreal police. Two were arrested over the weekend.
Each is 16 or younger. All four have been released from custody, on condition they avoid contact with the victims and stay away from Pearson. They will be arraigned in Youth Court today and tomorrow.
To ensure order is maintained as classes resume, police reiterated that there will be a heavy and visible police presence around both schools this morning.
“The school will be safe and secure,” Lacroce said. “Both school boards have a zero-tolerance policy for violence.”
“We’re going to work with our kids to bring back, as quickly as possible, some normalcy,” he said. “There was an incident; we’re dealing with it and we’re going to get back on track.”
Through student-council leaders at the respective schools, both student bodies will brainstorm “in the coming days” on imaginative ways to prevent recurrences, he said.
“We’re going to ask them: ‘What is it you think would better the relations? What can we do, together, to get to know each other better?’
“Because, obviously, if we get to know each other better, then the tensions in the communities will certainly de-escalate.”
The overriding goal, Lacroce said, is to “bring the communities together. It is important that we get the kids talking,” and that projects “come directly from them.”
“We’re doing everything we can to get back on a smooth road with our neighbours,” Lacroce said of 1,500-student Pearson school.
At 2,100-student Henri Bourassa, run by the French Commission scolaire de la Pointe de l’Île, “they’re going to be doing the same thing,” Lacroce added, following a meeting with his counterpart at that school commission.
Officials from that school commission did not return repeated phone calls seeking an interview.
After word of the beatings spread, there was a series of window-breakings at Pearson on Thursday and Friday that were attributed to Henri Bourassa students.
The tumult triggered a lockdown at Pearson Thursday, and kept more than half of Pearson’s students away Friday.
“We believe this was very much an isolated incident between some students,” Lacroce said of the beatings.
A total of “15 or 20 students” were involved in the disruptions, he estimated, with “the vast majority doing what they are supposed to do,” at both schools.
One of the two beating victims has acknowledged she used a racial epithet. She was hit by an ice cube at a local fast-food restaurant, she said, and responded to a group of mostly black Henri Bourassa students tossing the ice with: “Stop it, you f—ing n—ers.”
Minutes later, on her way back to Pearson, she was swarmed and attacked.
Between the two schools, “we’re going to get our student groups to meet,” Lacroce said. “We’re also hoping we can get our governing boards to come together.”
Asked whether the mingling will extend to inter-school basketball games or other athletic or social events, Lacroce said it will be up to student council leaders at both schools.
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