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Community support @ Lord Byng!

Updated: Sep 18, 2019

Another student has left Lord Byng Secondary School, after a recent reversal of a decision made by the Vancouver School Board (VSB) about a racist student attending the school following an incident, last year.

In December, 2018, the VSB told parents that a student who made a racist and threatening video (wording in first article) and then posted it on a group chat to several friends would not be returning to Lord Byng Secondary after Christmas. This was after receiving a lot of backlash from students, parents and the community, when they learned of the initial disciplinary measure.

After hearing about the 3-day suspension that the school felt would adequately resolve the situation, those effected by the threatening video asked that more attention be given to the incident. More support and assurances were needed for students who no longer felt safe at school and more needed to be done with regard to the offending student being accountable for his actions. Most of all, it didn’t seem that the school was implementing its policies, especially when it came to their zero-tolerance policy.

While some students and families reached out to the community for support, the school reached out to the school board to work on damage control. It seemed they started to address the incident, by eventually taking the advice of the student who brought the video to their attention as well as others in the community. They held assemblies to educate the school about racism, but it was reported as being disappointing. They also put together a student anti-racism committee. There was some hope that they would gather ideas to be able to address these incidents better; however, by the end of the school year, there was only one meeting and we were told racism was not discussed.

The VSB seemed to be working on the issue as well, trying to implement policies and procedures and curb the outcry from the public. They extended the suspension, brought in consultants to deal with procedures, such as a risk assessment, and spoke with police about their role. They acknowledged the incident as a “hate-crime” and committed to initiating an anti-racism committee. Many were disappointed when the VSB came back saying that they determined there was no risk, the police had dropped 2 charges they were apparently considering and the anti-racism committee? Hasn’t been initiated yet. They held several meetings with community members, but after everything, still seem to have fallen short. Their efforts hadn’t alleviated the concerns of student safety.

After a slew of continued complaints, they told parents that the boy would not be back in January and they would continue to work on their policies and procedures. Parents still asked if the offending student would be allowed back the following year, but the VSB would not answer that question. That did not satisfy anyone, especially since black students were being harassed by supporters of the student who made the video, including more racist bullying on social media and confrontations at school. What would be done to ensure student safety?

One student had already left the school due to the effects of the video message and the toll the VSBs lack of appropriate action had taken on her. She didn’t trust they could ensure a safe environment, as much as she tried to help, and in the end, had to find her own way.

Another student had considered the same; however, the family hoped the school would honor their commitments of a safe and caring school and wouldn’t have to be inconvenienced by moving to another school. During the summer, the attention died down and people did their summer things… until the VSB informed selected parents that they had reversed their decision; The student would be allowed back in September. Questions and concern started up again.

The privacy act prevented the VSB from saying anything further and, just like the 3-day suspension, they would not put this decision in writing. Comments of “he comes from a good family” and “his dad’s a great guy” were spouted, but what did that mean? Did privilege play a role? Conscious or unconscious bias perhaps? Other incidents, apparently far smaller than this, at neighbouring schools had circulated, where the ethnic boys were expelled right away and one was arrested at the school.

Ultimately, the VSB said they had a duty to provide the offending student a public education; however, the effected families questioned how that should supersede the rights of other students to feel safe. Were there no other options than to return to the school? Restorative justice was pushed as the best way to handle this; however, details can’t be revealed, due to the privacy act, so everyone is just expected to trust the same people who didn’t consider this a threat in the first place.

With school out of session and few resources available to them, they did what many students and families do when dealing with this type of situation; they gave up and decided their best option to stay safe was to change schools. Disheartened and inconvenienced, but safe.

This decision brought the attention of more parents and more community members to the front lines. While parents have continued to ask for better solutions, the community has come together to support them. A community alliance was formed and an initiative was started by writing a letter to several governing bodies who would be able to help change this decision and it has gathered the support of approximately 700 people and 50 organizations, so far.

It is now the first day of the new school year. After all the efforts, all people are left with is commitments not lived up to, students that felt they had to leave their school for safety reasons after already experiencing the effects of all of this and a student who posted a racists video message on social media, stating that he wanted to kill a whole race of people with a bomb, being allowed to return to a school full of youth, including youth of the race he stated he wanted to kill. This is not how most people would define a safe and caring school and they want the school and school board to know.

Community members will be gathering together TODAY (Sept. 3rd), to show their support for the students and families effected by this debacle. Families, members of the community alliance and supporters will be interviewing with the press to discuss their concerns and the impact this has had on them at 7:00pm, in front of the school. They hope that this might show the school just how many people feel their decision is wrong; that there needs to be a strong stance on racism in schools, that student safety must be the highest priority and that they need to stand behind their zero-tolerance policy.

It is not just black people who are feeling effected by racism being tolerated in schools, but people of other ethnic backgrounds and white students and families who don’t want to be a part of this environment, around people who are racist or tolerate racist behaviour. This has been a factor in decisions made to opt for other schools. Although there’s no guarantee this can’t happen at another school, some feel it’s worth a try.

For anyone who isn't a person of colour and thinks racism doesn't effect them or if it makes them feel uncomfortable, they might want to give it some thought. With the growing number of incidents, behaviours getting worse and authorities continuing to minimize or turn a blind eye, it may only a matter of time before it effects them in a way they won't be able to ignore. Whether it's a bomb threat, bullying to the point of someone committing suicide or growing up with (or dating) the next Brock Turner, they might not want these "zero-tolerance" policies to remain as vague and inconsistent as they are. Change is often uncomfortable, but if we want to see it, we have to find a way to make it happen, for everyone’s sake.

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