By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – A Métis woman in Cochrane says her 13-year-old son was brutally beaten by nearly a dozen older teenagers at St. Timothy’s Catholic School in a racially motivated attack.
The school denies it was a hate crime and has sent the mother a letter prohibiting her from contacting school administration. Meanwhile, the RCMP are investigating the alleged assault.
Jessica, who asked to be referred to only by her first name to avoid retribution, told Alberta Native News that her son returned from school on Sept. 21 bloody and bruised.
She immediately called the school before taking her son to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a concussion and neck injuries.
“My kids came through the door. They’re trying to tell me what’s going on. I’m realizing what happened, but even when I initially called, I knew it was bad but I did not fully grasp what had happened,” Jessica said.
In addition to his physical injuries, Jessica said her son also suffers from emotional trauma and nightmares as a result of the beating.
Her daughter witnessed the attack from assailants who were in her grade. Jessica said her daughter told her the school vice principal Joana Dosdall witnessed the beating but didn’t intervene, nor did Dosdall tell the school principal David Gowans, who said he was unaware of what occurred when Jessica called.
Jessica added that her son was targeted for his Métis heritage and her work with the Calgary-area Indigenous advocacy outfit the Reconciliation Action Group.
None of these claims have been proven in court.
A Calgary Catholic School Division (CCSD) spokesperson, in an emailed statement to Alberta Native News, rejected Jessica’s characterization of the incident, but said the board “takes all accusations of this matter very seriously.”
“School administration is working with the students/families involved to conduct their own investigation into this situation, which varies greatly from the description provided by the family,” wrote CCSD spokesperson Joanna French.
“CCSD is proud of St. Timothy Junior/Senior High School where the community lives and learns in our Catholic Faith, so that students centred in Christ realize their full potential. CCSD is also proud of the work that St. Timothy is doing regarding truth and reconciliation.”
The CCSD provided the Calgary Herald with a more detailed statement, calling the incident a matter of “rough play” between students.
“You don’t get a concussion, PTSD and horrific nightmares from rough horseplay,” Jessica said in response.
The board added that “appropriate disciplinary measures have been taken” against the students involved.
The RCMP is investigating the attack. Alberta RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Matthew Howell said that as of now “there is no proof to state that it was hate motivated,” but emphasized that police are still open to that possibility.
“There’s no official designation one way or the other right now,” he added.
Jessica said “this is one of the first times I’ve ever actually had a positive experience” with the RCMP, which she contrasted with her interactions with St. Timothy’s administration.
She provided Alberta Native News with her emailed correspondence with the school.
At 11 p.m. on the night of the alleged assault, Jessica sent a letter to Gowans, informing him she contacted police, providing a statement for each of her kids and expressing her desire to see Dodall criminally charged and removed from her position “while this is sorted out.”
“I hope that Jackson is feeling much better and that the injuries he shared are not too serious,”
Gowans responded in a Sept. 22 morning email, adding that he met with the RCMP earlier.
That evening, Jessica responded asking “what the school and school district are going to do to make the school a safe space for Jackson?” She said she can’t send him to school otherwise.
Throughout the week, attempts to arrange a meeting between Jessica, her husband, her son, his homeroom teacher and Gowan were repeatedly postponed due to scheduling conflicts. Gowan proposed they meet on Oct. 2.
On the morning of Sept. 28, a frustrated Jessica sent an email to Gowan, as well as CCSD admin, arguing the school isn’t appreciating the urgency of the situation and that it needs to put its vice principal on leave. “We should not have to continue to be re-traumatized by encountering her,” Jessica wrote, noting that disciplining an administrator is a separate process from criminal charges.
She added that “continuing to refuse to provide a safe caring environment for our children is beyond comprehension and you should all be ashamed of how you’re handling this.”
Jessica concluded the email by asking Gowan to name a time on Sept. 28 or 29 that would work for them, and she and her husband would attend it.
That evening, CCSD administrator Steven Pantigola sent Jessica a “communication protocol,” ordering her to cease contacting the school board, but allowing her husband to continue to do so.
In the letter, Pantigola accused Jessica of “grossly and intentionally misrepresented events involving students and staff of St. Timothy School,” adding that her allegation of racism is “based on pure speculation and with no credible supporting evidence.”
He characterized her last email as “insulting, disrespectful, inflammatory, and unreasonable.”
“I am confident that all school staff at St. Timothy School have conducted themselves as professionals who have your son’s best interests at heart. I am proud of the excellent work they have already done, and indeed continue to do, to create a welcoming, caring, respectful, and safe learning environment that respects diversity and fosters a sense of belonging for all students, including your son,” Pantigola concluded.
Jessica said she’s transferred her kids to a local public school.
On Oct. 2, the Reconciliation Action Group issued a news release accusing the CCSD of “actively attempting to silence an Indigenous mother and separate her from being a part of any information regarding her children.”
“The attack has been continued through the district’s actions and refusal to act to protect students and provide a safe and caring environment,” it added.
Métis Nation of Alberta President Andrea Sandmaier told the Calgary Herald that accounts of the incident “are not only deeply concerning, they are unacceptable.”
“All students deserve to be safe at school and this incident serves as a stark reminder of the enduring racism our Métis community grapples with, even today. My thoughts are with the family and child at this time,” she said.