When “Elise” reported a racist video a fellow Grade 10 student at Lord Byng made about their desire to kill Black people last November, her issue at the time was with that student.
But after an apology from the student’s family was made public this past weekend, Elise — whose name we have changed to protect her identity — and her mother told The Tyee it makes no difference to them.
“The whole situation is not about him anymore,” said Elise, who left Lord Byng this past February because of the bullying and harassment she received after reporting the video.
“I’m more hurt about how the admin dealt with it, how disrespectful and rude and dismissive they were about my feelings and feelings of people of colour.”
She and her mother want to know what changes the Vancouver School Board will make to how Byng and other public schools must respond when serious examples of racism are reported.
They also are waiting to learn what steps are being implemented to lessen racism in schools across the district.
Neither course of action has yet been made clear, say Elise and her mother, nearly a year after their ordeal began.
Over the summer another Black student at Lord Byng decided not to return to the school after rumours spread that the student who made the video would be back this fall. In fact, the student continues to attend another school since January 2019.
The Tyee obtained a copy of the apology through a representative of the student’s family, as well as a statement written by the student, and a timeline of events.
The apology letter is dated Nov. 21, 2018, three days after Elise originally reported the video to Lord Byng principal Geoff Taylor and vice-principal Mike Vulgaris.
In it the family lays out their feelings about their son’s actions; say a friend, not the student himself, posted the video on social media; pledge their son will make amends for his actions; and apologize for the hurt he has caused.
“We humbly ask for your forgiveness of our son at this difficult time. We know our son is a better human being than this,” the letter reads.
“He has made a terrible mistake. The path to redemption in front of him is going to be enormous and will likely feel impossible at times as he fully realizes the true consequences of his actions.”
Elise and her mom were already aware of the apology letter. They told The Tyee that district staff mentioned it at some point late last November or in early December, but that the letter was “nothing for you guys, because this is not an apology, they’re talking about how they’re feeling,” said Elise’s mom, who did not read it.
Instead Elise, her mom, and the BC Community Alliance, a coalition of Black community organizations and others concerned about racism in schools, say they are more concerned about the district and police’s response to the video than they are about the student who made it.
“Racism’s always going to happen. I’m always going to have to deal with it. I know how to deal with that,” said Elise.
“But I don’t know how to deal with it when I reach out for help, and they’re just saying I’m overreacting. I can’t deal with that.”
‘Put people’s minds at ease’
Information previously unknown or unconfirmed about this incident, but included in the family’s documents shared with The Tyee, include the student’s initial three-day suspension, which was eventually extended to a total of five weeks. His family says they decided to put him in another school starting January of this year.
The family’s representative also told The Tyee the district informed the student on Aug. 30, three days before school started, that he would not be allowed to return to Lord Byng Secondary this September. The representative added this reversed a previous decision by the board and school to let him come back.
This decision was allegedly made three days after the BC Community Alliance wrote an open letter calling on the district to not let the student return to Byng. They also have an online petition calling on the district to do better, which they say has over 800 signatures.
Community Alliance co-founder Marie Tate says if the district isn’t letting the student come back, they should be more transparent and “put it in writing.”
“If they really want to put people’s minds at ease, put people’s minds at ease,” she said.
Both the school and the district have previously refused to confirm or deny whether the student who made the video has been suspended at all, or whether he would return to the high school this month.
The Tyee reached out to the district for an interview about the apology but was denied. Instead, a spokesperson reiterated that the district does not tolerate racism.
“While details about specific students cannot be shared, incidents that contravene the District Code of Conduct are addressed through a balance of discipline and restorative steps,” reads an email from a district spokesperson.
“Student safety and well-being is our top priority and we continue to work with community members to listen and learn.”
The Vancouver Police Department also previously maintained in an email to The Tyee that they stand by their investigation and decision not to press charges against the student who made the video.
‘We’ve said the same things a thousand times’
Tate is optimistic that a recent meeting held with the parents, BC Community Alliance members and representatives from the school, district, Vancouver Police Department, provincial government, City of Vancouver and BC Human Rights Commission, will lead to structural changes.
“The meeting was awesome. I’ve never seen that many people come together to try to create change around racism. And so we’d like to focus on that,” she said.
“We’re looking for the school board to present ideas to us in 30, 60 or 90 days. That’s more about policy changes, but also about education for students, and training for teachers and administrators.”
But Elise’s mom says she is less optimistic the district will change anything because they haven’t specified what they will do differently to tackle racism in schools — or change how they handle reports of it — the next time this happens.
It’s a sentiment her daughter echoes.
“We’ve said the same things a thousand times of what we want done and what should be happening,” Elise said.
“It makes me so frustrated. It’s been a whole year and we’re still talking about it. It takes more than a year to make a change like this? I just don’t get it.”