Private school students expelled in Vancouver for hateful online images

VANCOUVER — The Ministry of Education will inspect a private day and boarding school for boys in Vancouver’s west side after a group of students was suspended and some students expelled for sharing hateful images privately online.

Students outside the independent St. George’s School on Thursday said they believed up to 15 boys were members of a private social-media messaging group that shared the offensive “memes,” meant to hurt people based on their race, culture or religion.

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The school said in an emailed statement that a “number of our students were involved in deeply offensive behaviour online” which contravened its student code of conduct and core values.

After the school investigated the behaviour, “a number of boys” were suspended and several were expelled.

“We immediately launched an investigation, which included contacting our [Vancouver Police Department] school liaison officer,” the school said. “Our liaison officer has confirmed that this was not a criminal matter.”

The school said it found no risk to the safety of students and staff. It would not provide further information, citing its privacy policy.

Five students who each spoke independently with a Postmedia reporter outside the school on Thursday said most of the 10 to 15 boys in the direct-message group were in Grade 10.

Two students said the incident came to light last week.

Postmedia has not seen the offensive memes. The students outside the school, all of whom asked not to be identified, could not confirm what the memes involved.

The Ministry of Education said in an emailed statement that its staff contacted St. George’s as soon as they became aware of the incident. The ministry declined to comment on the student suspensions and discipline issues, citing its privacy policy.

The ministry will conduct an inspection of the school in November to “ensure their policies and operations are in line with the Independent School Act,” the statement said.

“B.C.’s schools are places of learning — racism is unacceptable and not tolerated,” the ministry said. “Any report of racist behaviour is very concerning.”

The ministry said the B.C. government has ensured all independent schools in the province have anti-bullying and harassment policies in line with the B.C. Human Rights Code.

St. George’s student code of conduct includes specific policy prohibiting bullying, including “unwanted physical contact, verbal abuse and threats, unwelcome remarks including jokes, innuendo, or taunting (in verbal, written or digital form) about a person’s body, race, gender, attire, (perceived) sexual orientation, or religion.”

The code of conduct prohibits students from misusing technology “to hurt, intimidate, embarrass, or humiliate another person.”

A section on technology use tells students to “only post or share images and ideas that they will be proud of in perpetuity (students must recognize that everything on the internet is permanent and may be accessed by anyone).”

St. George’s was founded in 1930 and enrolment is about 1,150, in Grades 1-12. Basic tuition ranges from $23,740 for a junior school student from B.C. to $71,490 for an international boarding student.

It is not the only B.C. school recently confronted by bigotry.

Last November, the Georgia Straight reported that a student at Lord Byng, a public high school in Vancouver, had posted a video online in which he made “threatening, racist statements, including how he hated black people and hoped they would all die.”

The video caused two black girls to leave the school, the CBC reported. The 16-year-old boy who made the video later apologized. His family said he was suspended for five weeks and now attends a different school.

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