Vancouver parents broke into tears during an emotional school board committee meeting, as they spoke of how their children and families were coping with anti-Black racism.
One 14-year-old student told members of the Vancouver School Board’s (VSB) policy and governance committee she spent her first year of high school holding her breath.
“I felt like I didn’t matter to my school and the adults in charge,” she said.
The young girl was enrolled at Lord Byng Secondary School last fall when a video laced with racist epithets and threats targeting Black students began circulating. It was filmed by a White student at the school.
Suzanne Daley, the girl’s mother, says the VSB did nothing to support them.
“My family felt alone, we felt unsupported, we felt like were were bothering the people in charge at the VSB,” Daley said.
“We felt like everybody was relieved when we finally left the school.”
The district says procedures were followed, with disciplinary and restorative measures put in place.
“The district and the school have worked with the community to provide the student body with anti-racism education, additional counselling opportunities for students, with individualized support plans, staff training and through the creation of a Byng Secondary Diversity and Inclusion Committee,” said the VSB in a statement.
The VSB hired a district resource teacher focused on anti-racism support and education. It also engaged Safer Schools to conduct a review of district practices and procedures.
However, parents and members of the community remain critical of the school and board’s handling of the November, 2018 incident.
They say the board’s current anti-racism policies are ineffective and there are no clear measures in place outlining how a similar incident would be handled in the future.
It’s why the B.C. Community Alliance filed a human rights complaint against the board last month, saying they waited a year for something to be done, but that nothing changed.
Committee chair Fraser Ballantyne said the committee was “not in a position to engage” in a discussion about the complaint at the meeting.
It was a particularly emotional evening, with several anti-racism policies on the agenda.
Parents and members of Vancouver’s Black community impressed upon the board their need to specifically target racism and discrimination.
B.C. Community Alliance co-founder Marie Tate said kids and their families are suffering in silence.
“We have had community meetings where older people have come to discuss their children but, during the course of the conversation, mentioning their own experiences,” Tate said.
“So we’ve had four, five generations of people having these same experiences.”
For Rita Baboth, it’s been a particularly frustrating journey.
The mother of four says her two older sons endured years of racism in Vancouver high schools, an experience she calls “a nightmare.”
“Sometimes I regret to be here,” she said.
Baboth said she came to Canada hoping to give her children a better life. Now, as her youngest child prepares for high school, she worries about what he will encounter.
“I never experienced someone not going to like me because of how I look,” she said. “I’ve never been in that situation or imagined my child would go through that. It’s really hard for me.”
Since the incident, Baboth and Daley’s daughters have both changed schools. The student who filmed the video also left Lord Byng.
Parents also discussed prohibitive privacy policies hampering conversations aimed at addressing the problem.
Jay Prince, the father of two students at Lord Byng, said a “culture of privacy” could cause everyone to miss out on much-needed dialogue, discussion and transparency.
“Racism exists,” he said, joining other parents speaking in support of a motion brought forward by trustee Jennifer Reddy.
He called on the committee to ensure resources are put in place so “the right culture” could be instilled in Vancouver’s schools.
It remains to be seen how the district will address racism from a policy perspective going forward.
A review of one of the motions by legal counsel — at the committee’s request — suggested avoiding labeling the policy as one targeting “hate-motivated crimes,” as it presupposes the intention behind students’ actions.
Counsel suggested framing the policy as one “responding to discriminatory conduct.”
Committee members also discussed the temporary hiring of a field expert to help the district examine and establish anti-racism policies and procedures.
Another motion also discussed a short, mid and long-term strategy for addressing racism.
Decisions made by the committee will be forwarded to the board for further discussion and a final vote in the new year.