British Columbia

Student's racist video is far from a 'stupid mistake,' mothers say, as school allows him to return to class

Nearly a year after a Vancouver high school student posted a video on social media full of racist comments about black people, the mother of a girl who raised red flags about the incident says she's still waiting for meaningful action.

Parents who moved kids out of Lord Byng still waiting for consequences nearly a year after video was posted

In 2019 Suzanne Daley, left, and Rita Baboth explained that both their daughters left Lord Byng after a racist video was posted by a fellow student. (Harman/CBC)

The video is beyond stark.

The teenage boy's head fills the frame as he talks in a soft voice: "... I hate n----rs. I hope all n----rs die."

He continues: "I just want to line them all up and just chuck an explosive in there and go ka-boom!"

The boy spoke the words directly to the camera.

But two black girls who — like the boy — attended Vancouver's Lord Byng Secondary School at the time the video appeared on social media felt he was speaking directly to them.

How could they not, their mothers ask?

And nearly a year after the video first appeared, both women are wondering how their daughters could be the ones who felt the need to switch schools while the boy is being allowed to resume his studies at Lord Byng.

"This has been so grossly mishandled," said Suzanne Daley, whose 14-year-old daughter now attends another high school.

"It could have ended the next day. The next day. Had the principal said, 'Hey parents, not OK. Your son crossed the line. We don't want him in our school community.'"

'This is not a stupid mistake'

The situation has come to a head in recent months after the Vancouver School Board told Daley the district had decided to allow the boy to return to Lord Byng this month.

The boy left for a neighbouring secondary school as a result of the initial complaints about the video.

But according to a letter written by Richard Zerbe, the school board's director of instruction, a decision for him to return to Lord Byng "occurred in alignment with our practice of annually reviewing the placements of students who have changed schools mid-year."

The racist video was posted on Facebook and circulated at Lord Byng Secondary School on Vancouver's west side in late November of 2018. (Vancouver School Board)

Daley shared the letter with the CBC.

On Monday night, she and Rita Baboth, the mother of the other girl to switch schools, met with a host of officials from the school district and school board, the Vancouver Police Department and the B.C. Human Rights Commission.

Baboth, whose daughter reported the video to administrators after seeing other teens laugh about it, says she's exhausted from months of meeting with people who keep assuring her they take her concerns seriously.

Baboth says the video speaks for itself. And so does the collective response.

"We've been told he's not racist. It's just a stupid mistake. He came from a good family and 'Think about his education,'" she says.

"And I keep telling them, 'No. This is not a stupid mistake.'"

'You don't really know how to deal with it'

According to the letter the school board sent Daley, the initial response to the video involved the VPD, the Ministry of Education and Safer Schools Together — an organization that helps schools minimize and manage the risk of student violence.

"The VPD did not lay criminal charges in this matter," Zerbe wrote. 

"Further, a violent threat risk assessment process supported the student's ability to resume their educational program in the regular school setting."

According to a letter shared with Suzanne Daley, the Vancouver police investigated the incident but 'did not lay criminal charges.' (Jacy Schindel/CBC)

Baboth and Daley feel the boy should be expelled.

"It would be good to let him know that it's not OK, so he can change and get counselling. We need education in the schools. We need anti-racism in the school board. We need some training for the teachers," Baboth says.

She says her daughter told administrators at Lord Byng they also needed training.

"My daughter said you need training because you don't really know how to deal with it."

'Hugely emotionally impactful'

Daley is white and her daughter is half-black.

In the back-and-forth before Daley's daughter switched schools, Zerbe outlined "strategies" intended to help the "Lord Byng community" move forward.

Those include the addition of a vice-principal with a counselling background, "restorative actions to be planned with the school and the district" and "support plans for any student triggered by the student's return."

"I did share with you that the parent of the student was welcoming of a meeting with you as an impacted parent," Zerbe wrote.

But Daley rejected an offer of third-party mediation. She says there are strategic plans — and then there's the reality of high school life.

Vancouver School Board superintendent Suzanne Hoffman told the CBC that measures were put in place to support those most impacted by the racist video. (Harman/CBC)

"They thought that was restorative action," she says. "Me making my daughter a target."

The district won't confirm whether the boy in question has returned to Lord Byng, citing privacy reasons.

The same protections have hampered communications about the issue with Daley and Baboth.

They also restricted the ability of VSB superintendent Suzanne Hoffman to speak directly to the incident in a CBC radio interview.

"It is hugely emotionally impactful for families so part of our response when situations do arise is to make sure that we listen, that we learn and we as a district put things into place to support those most impacted," Hoffman said.

"We did this in the case of the incident that the mom was referring to and we would do that in other circumstances too."

'We pretend like racism does not exist'

Daley says she felt like the officials at Monday's meeting listened to her concerns. But she's not holding her breath for action.

Baboth says she's getting tired of dealing with a situation in which the wrongdoing seems so obvious, as is the need for public condemnation. 

She came to Canada from Sudan in her twenties.

She says the situation highlights a reality many Canadians may find hard to accept.

"In Canada we pretend like racism does not exist. We're not comfortable talking about it. It's sad that I don't see the people who should be standing up and saying, 'Hey you should not be like this,'" she says.

"Why does it have to be a black person who has been threatened to stand up and say, 'This is not right?'"

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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