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One student who's Creating Change!

Updated: Sep 17, 2019

A black student, attending Lord Byng Secondary School, was not satisfied with how her administrators dealt with a racist video, posted by a fellow white student, that recently came to her attention. She was concerned for her safety and the safety of other black students at her school, as the boy said he hated “n$@rs”, and wanted to “line them all up and just chuck an explosive in there and go kaboom”.

She went through all the proper channels, talking to teachers, councilors, the principal and vice principals. She also spoke with police. At first, she and her mother were told that he would have a three-day suspension. When she reached out for support from a community group, they responded with support, including writing and calling the school and other administrative bodies. The school then said they were continuing their investigation; however, they ultimately came back saying that the boy’s actions were not deemed to be a serious threat. She and her mother asked when the boy would be back in school, but they wouldn’t tell her. Changich’s mother doesn’t want her to remain at the school if he is there, but they don’t know what they can do without a significant and upsetting change in her life.

Last week, another parent contacted Speak Up Youth Forums, also concerned for their child, who attended the school. She also went through the proper channels, but was not receiving a response. She was very concerned for her child’s safety and wanted to know what was going on. She continued to call and write for several days and finally got a response. They told her that they didn't feel he was a threat and that all the effected students had various supports in place from the school. The biggest question on her mind was when the boy was going to return, but again, they wouldn’t tell her. This did not alleviate her concerns. In fact, she has spoken with other schools about a possible transfer.

I sent out four letters to the school, school board and other administrative bodies. A week later, I received one response stating "Every step is being taken to address the seriousness of this matter”… “the school administration in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Safer Schools Together, the VPD and other organizations, did a risk assessment and through that process, it was determined that there is not a threat to any one at the school.” … “We are working with the student involved, the student’s family and the police, to implement the appropriate level of disciplinary and restorative actions. The Vancouver School District operates in an inclusive non-discriminatory manner. We sincerely want all members of our school community to feel safe, valued and respected”.

The problem is that the students don’t feel safe, valued and respected. They don’t know when the boy will be back and if the school doesn’t feel he’s a threat, what has changed? How can they be assured he won’t do something like this again or worse. The effected families do not feel that an appropriate level of action has been taken to satisfy their fears. The only action they’ve seen the school take is telling students to take down the video and posts, being told they will have to be comfortable with him coming back to school and that a longer suspension would disrupt his education. The student, who brought the video to the school's attention, felt some tension from the administration for reaching out for support and felt that it was almost like they were protecting the boy more than the black students. She said the school (students and staff) seemed divided about who they saw as the victim. The black students or a boy some say “just made a mistake”.

She continued to push for the school to do something more; to try and educate people about racism and the effects this video was having on the black students at the school and elsewhere. This wasn’t just about one or two incidents at the school; it was about a dangerous culture of racism and violence that has been getting worse in recent years, with the current political climate in the US.

She asked for another meeting with the school principal about the possibility of an assembly. The principal seemed supportive; however, she was reluctant to get her hopes up due to the results from the last time students asked for a similar assembly after the KKK costume incident the previous year (as noted in our last article). The school didn’t address the students about it and it faded away until this incident. Had the school taken a position on racism then, it may have set an example, but it doesn’t seem that the two-day suspension made much of an impact. This time; however, the difference was a student who wouldn’t give up until she was heard, along with support from her mother and her community.

The school has now confirmed a forum, next week for the students. They will also hold another assembly and bring someone in to talk about Black History in Canada. This is a great step forward. The school and school board have several resources available to students; however, it hasn’t seemed to be implemented at the school before. In the same letter I received, the VSB rep said “Recent events have highlighted the need for targeted instruction to address issues of racism and diversity within the school community.”

Recognizing this need is a start, but will it fade away after the attention dies down? Not if this student has anything to say about it. In addition to initiating the assemblies, she is now a student rep. on the Vancouver School Board’s Diversity Committee. Way to go!

The school board is working on developing "educational programing that will be delivered in the near future.” The new committee, comprised of students and teachers, will establish a plan to support the school moving forward and heal.

So what’s left? While this is wonderful news for the future of the school community, the immediate future is still uncertain. The families still don’t know when the boy will be back and what is in place to make sure they feel safe when he does.

The school has to try and balance the rights of these students, under laws, rules and codes of conduct. I’m sure it’s not an easy task. They mentioned concern for the boy’s education, but what about the safety of the Black students and how can you learn effectively when you are worried about your safety? What or who will determine this balance? The school says they can’t divulge information about students, but do the students who feel unsafe have a right to know if and when he will be returning to school? Especially if they would prefer not to be there or even transfer schools, as one family is contemplating? Do they have the right to know why they shouldn’t be concerned?

She had the right idea; education is key. The assemblies will be very helpful, but is learning about Black history enough? Will students listen to speakers and forget it in a few days? That’s what students have mentioned to me over and over. Adults telling youth what the problem is and what the solution is, rather than really listening to students themselves. The students will have to continue to live and learn in this environment for some time. What could help bring this divided school back together?

Speak Up Youth Forums can offer students, on both sides, the opportunity to say how they have felt through this situation and what they have learned. Students are welcome to send us a video or email about their thoughts on the topic to post on our website. This goes for the boy who posted the video too. What prompted him to post it to begin with? What has he learned since posting it? How has this situation changed him? Right now, there is still some upset about his actions and concern over him returning to school. As with most things, most of the fear is in not knowing. If there is a sincere apology, along with a reason why students should no longer be concerned, maybe that could put people’s minds at ease. I don’t know if this would work within the school, but we are here for anyone who wants to speak Up, create change and inspire others. This could be a learning tool for other students and schools dealing with similar issues involving racism and careless acts.

A full forum is a possibility as well. On November 29th, in a Georgia Straight article, former school board trustee, Patti Bacchus said, “If I were a newly elected trustee on the VSB, I’d be bringing a motion forward to restore the antiracism teacher mentor position and restore the district’s antiracism committee… I’d invite community leaders who work in the antiracism field to join the committee and provide advice on what more the VSB can do to educate students about racism and ensure schools are safe places for everyone. I’d fund and support students to organize a districtwide youth forum on fighting racism in our schools and society.”

So let’s do it!

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