Parent of trans teen seeks answers from CBE after he says bully transferred to same school

The father of a trans teenager says he’s still waiting for an explanation from the Calgary Board of Education as to why a student he says bullied his child ended up at the same school they moved to for a fresh start.

Charles Lee says his 16-year-old child, Kai, was attending a junior high school in the city’s northwest when the bullying started around a year-and-a-half ago.

At its worst, Lee says the bullying saw Kai admitted as a psychiatric inpatient at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, at risk of suicide.

He says the student they say is responsible for the bullying was suspended multiple times and was eventually transferred to a different school. 

Kai was then granted a special exemption to attend a school outside of their area.

“Things went really, really well. Grades were better than in the past three or four years, and Kai was really enjoying school with a good core group of friends, and it looked like the worst was behind us,” Charles Lee said.

But one day, Lee says Kai’s worst nightmare came true: the student they feared ended up at the same school.

Kai Lee, pictured at home, says they shouldn’t have been put in the situation of facing their bully for a second time after such an extreme case.
Sixteen-year-old Kai Lee says bullying started in junior high after attending the school’s GSA and coming out as trans. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Kai says they were always seen as one of the kids that was different from everyone else. Kai says things escalated once they started attending the school’s GSA (gay-straight alliance).

“I found out what transgender meant and realized that was me,” said Kai. “Then the minute I publicly came out and told people I was a guy, that’s when the bullying got really bad. It was a group but led by one person.”

Kai says they were subjected to deadnaming, use of a trans person’s former name when they no longer identify with it.

“People would correct students saying ‘It’s a girl and this is her name,’ even if they were told otherwise by me or teachers,” Kai said. “There were notes going around, just constant harassment and being shamed.”

Kai says they were targeted over the use of washrooms and struggled with gendered gym classes and sports teams, which again drew attention and led to bullying.

“They had photos of me before I transitioned, and it was constant mental torture,” said Kai.

When the student Kai says was responsible for the bullying was removed from the school, it provided Kai with a big sense of relief. But more than a year later, Kai’s discovery that that student was now attending the same school was devastating.

“I couldn’t get out of bed and I would refuse to leave the house,” Kai said. “The thought of even seeing him on the bus or in public was not something I could deal with.”

Charles Lee
Charles Lee says the family just needs to know if the student he says bullied his child is still at their school, but he can’t get any answers. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Charles Lee says the school board offered to transfer Kai to a new school, but the pair feel it should be the other student who gets transferred — especially given Kai’s newfound academic success and happiness in a new environment.

Lee says the lack of communication and clear answers about what happened is the most frustrating part of the situation, which he says remains unresolved. 

Lee says that when he alerted the school, he was shut down.

“To this day, all I can get is that it’s been addressed but they refuse to confirm or deny if that child is there,” he said. “I knew they were and I had confirmation from several people, and I let them know that.”

Lee says Kai doesn’t feel safe returning until they know for sure that the student they say was responsible for the bullying is no longer there.

“They assure me Kai’s safe but they’re not able to give us what we need,” he said.

Lee said he has contacted Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange’s office, who told him there’s nothing they can do to help. He’s also reached out to his MLA and the mayor about the case.

He says he’s now in the process of seeking a restraining order.

The CBE building in Calgary’s beltline.
The Calgary Board of Education says in a statement to CBC News that the situation is now resolved. The Lee family says they are still waiting for an explanation. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The Calgary Board of Eduction (CBE) released an independent review of bullying in 2019 following the death of nine-year-old Syrian newcomer Amal Alshteiwi, whose parents say was bullied relentlessly before taking her own life. 

It found CBE regulations and practices to address bullying were fundamentally sound but that there was still work to do, especially around definitions and addressing bullying consistently.

“It dumbfounds me,” Charles Lee said. “We’re so far behind where we should be for protecting kids. It’s ridiculous.”

The CBE wouldn’t take part in an interview with CBC News relating to Kai’s case.

In an emailed statement, it said the board takes the safety and security of all students seriously. However, it could not comment on specific details of the situation in keeping with provincial privacy rules. 

“We can, however, tell you that the family’s specific concerns have been addressed, and we are working with the family to ensure that the student feels supported to return to school as soon as possible,” it said in a statement.

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