School trustee who said refugee students 'can be violent' resigns after backlash
EDMONTON -- An Edmonton public school board trustee who made controversial statements about refugee students is resigning in the wake of backlash.
Cheryl Johner apologized for the comments, made during a Tuesday board meeting, and said she would resign as trustee for Ward A "effective immediately."
While discussing the value of the School Resource Officer (SRO) Program with fellow trustees, Johner said:
“My mind goes to the number of refugee students that are coming into our district from war-torn countries that have never known school before arriving here, all they’ve known is violence,” said Johner. “When those students — sometimes — enter our schools, they can be violent there as well.”
Johner went on to say safety is “critically important” to “other students” and argued police officers in schools can “act as a deterrent” and “respond quickly to de-escalate situations.”
At least two MLAs called for her resignation. NDP MLA David Shepherd called Johner’s comments racist and said he was “extremely disappointed” to hear them.
“It’s not acceptable to describe a whole group of students as violent or potentially-violent based simply on their skin colour or their country of origin or to argue that as a result we need armed police officers in our schools to protect students from them,” he said.
Shepherd said as a Black man in a position of leadership he felt it important to speak up about Johner’s statement.
“With the recent attention we’ve seen around concerns of systemic racism following the murder of George Floyd we all of a sudden have an opportunity to bring out in the mainstream discussions that have been pushed to the sidelines for far too long,” he said.
Prior to her resignation, Shepherd said the “best solution” would be for Johner to step down. Edmonton-Castledowns MLA Nicole Goehring also called for her to resign.
In a statement, Johner said her comments were inappropriate and "immediately regrettable."
"I take full responsibility for what I said, and sincerely apologize for the hurt and upset I have caused our families, students, staff and community members," she said. " My statement in yesterday’s meeting does not reflect the care I feel for all students and families in the Division."
Johner closed her statement by lauding the "critical work" the division and board are doing to address systemic racism in Edmonton Public Schools.