As soon as the lunch bell rang on June 12, parents, students and community members gathered outside Suwilaawks Community School and Skeena Middle School demanding answers and transparency from SD82.
Kermode Friendship Society executive director Cal Albright spoke to more than 60 students and parents at Suwilaawks and urged residents to come together to protest the recent school district announcement that current principal Pam Kawinsky is to take a teaching position this fall.
The superintendent and school board have not explained why their decision to move Kawinsky and Skeena Middle School administrators Phillip Barron and Cory Killoran was made, or how this change is in the best interests of students, citing privacy concerns.
“This school, they have a lot of cultural programming because a lot of us, we grew up to be ashamed of who we are [as Indigenous people],” Albright says at the protest. “The school board and administration made such a decision amongst themselves… we cannot allow [them] to go ahead and do something that is going to directly affect the education of our children.”
Albright adds he will be speaking at the school board’s next meeting on June 19.
Nellie Aksidan, who also spoke at the protest, shared some of her own story when her late son attended Suwilaawks.
“[Kawinsky] did everything she could to help [students], to meet them where they’re at, to give them jobs that they enjoyed doing. Who would have thought my son loved gardening if it wasn’t for her?” Aksidan says.
“My son died at 15-years-old, and she was with me through that whole process… to this very day, I see her supporting our families. Why break something that isn’t broken?”
Around the same time, more than 70 people, some wearing red and pink shirts, met outside of Skeena Middle School, carrying signs reading ‘We demand transparency,’ ‘Save our principals,’ and simply, ‘Why?’
“We can make a difference. Today we support our children, we support our principals,” says Karleen Lemiski to the crowd. “We will not be silent.”
Terrace school board trustee Art Erasmus was inside Skeena Middle School during the protest. He declined to comment on the outpouring of confusion and frustration from the community about these decisions, but advised residents to attend the next school district meeting in Terrace on June 19.
A community-led petition demanding the administrators keep their current positions has collected about 1,000 signatures.
The parent protest was organized on the same date as the start of the then-illegal 1981 teacher’s strike that led to provincial unionization and fairer bargaining rights for teachers.