B.C.'s Ministry of Education will inspect St. George’s private school in Vancouver after a group of boys were caught sharing racist materials on social media and in the school, resulting in what is believed to be more than a dozen suspensions and expulsions this week.
The school would not make anyone available for an interview and would not answer specific questions about the allegations. Samantha Wink, head of communications for the school, provided a short statement confirming a “number” of students engaged in “deeply offensive behaviour online and in the school,” leading to an unspecified number of suspensions and expulsions.
The school says it contacted its Vancouver Police school-liaison officer who said the matter was not criminal in nature. However, Vancouver Police spokesman Steve Addison said Friday that it is still “very much under investigation” and no conclusions have been drawn yet.
The ministry said the inspection will take place in November to ensure that the school’s policies and operations are in line with the Independent School Act.
“B.C.’s schools are places of learning; racism is unacceptable and not tolerated,” the ministry said in a statement issued Friday. “Any report of racist behaviour is very concerning.”
St. George’s, located on Vancouver’s west side, is an elite private school that calls itself “Canada’s World School for Boys.” Basic tuition for a junior student from British Columbia is listed at $23,740, while a boarding student from anywhere in Canada will pay $52,570, according to the school’s website.
Headmaster Tom Matthews, who earlier this month announced that he will soon retire, sent a letter to parents and other members of the St. George’s community advising them of the disciplinary actions on Friday.
“Like youth around the world, many of our students are actively engaged in social media. Unfortunately, research suggests that there has been an upsurge in the sharing of offensive or discriminatory material,” he wrote.
“Teenagers may feel that this content is humorous and may be motivated by adolescent immaturity; however, this behaviour undermines our school’s values and community standards.”
Dr. Matthews said the school has been “working hard to increase our students’ awareness of social issues and to build respect for diversity and inclusion.”
Alex Tsakumis, a local real estate developer and past president of the school’s alumni association, said his contacts working at the school have said a teacher discovered the Grade 10 students using their phones during class to share the hateful content over social media.
He criticized his alma mater for waiting until the issue was reported in the media before it sent a note to parents. He also said it was unacceptable that some of the more than a dozen students involved were expelled while others were suspended.
“Anyone involved in trading that kind of information on social media that is a student at St. George’s doesn’t belong at St. George’s, period – end of story,” said Mr. Tsakumis, who used to run a colourful blog on B.C. politics.
“It doesn’t matter who your dad or your mom is, or how much money they’ve given to the school or your status in the school. If you’re stupid enough to do something like that, you shouldn’t be in that school.”
The school’s code of conduct prohibits bullying, which includes verbal abuse and threats, unwelcome remarks about a person’s race and religion, and misusing technology to hurt, intimidate, embarrass or humiliate others.