It was hard for Kyle Fraser to walk back into the school he left five years ago — hard to see the faces of people he says bullied him there.
But the 21-year-old drove six hours from Ohio, where he’s an undergraduate, to attend a special alumni meeting Tuesday night at St. Michael’s College School. He felt he had to be there.
“I went to fight for change, and fight for the victims,” he told the Star in an interview at his parents’ Scarborough home Wednesday afternoon.
“It starts at the top and that’s where they need to look.”
Fraser, who left the school after Grade 10 because he says he was verbally bullied, was among a crowd of about 300 people who gathered for a three-hour meeting to address a scandal that has enveloped the private boys’ school.
Some, such as Fraser, have expressed anger at the school’s handling of the crisis. But at the Tuesday meeting, many praised principal Greg Reeves.
“Some people said that he did nothing wrong, he had the best interests in mind,” Fraser said.
According to sources, Reeves told the crowd that his focus was always on the victims and students, which drew loud applause and a standing ovation.
Reeves acknowledged the criticism he’s faced for not immediately notifying police when he learned of the alleged sexual assault, but said he takes comfort in knowing that the victim and his parents are supportive of him and said the boy intends to return to school this week. He added that he would do exactly the same thing again.
Some, however, were critical of Reeves. One man said there was an utter failure of leadership, referring to the principal, the board and the Basilian Fathers, who run the school. Another said he had planned on sending his young son there, but was now reconsidering and urged Reeves to apologize and step down, which elicited some applause.
Reeves said he was sorry and regretted what had occurred at the school, but vowed to work hard to ensure such incidents never happen again, which drew even louder applause.
Reeves said upcoming midterm exams have been cancelled so the school can hold workshops to help the boys heal and urged alumni with appropriate skills to make themselves available to talk to students. He also noted the school has set up forums during lunch hour, called ‘Step up to the mic,’ to help students cope, and created a hotline to anonymously report incidents such as bullying.
It is also hiring a full-time social worker and four security guards to patrol the washrooms and locker room. And, an independent third-party committee will do a deep dive into the school’s culture and make recommendations.
Those in attendance also made suggestions, such as implementing a gay-straight alliance at the school, and sending out a survey to all alumni, parents and staff on the school’s handling of this crisis.
Some complained about unfair media coverage and alumni who have gone public with stories of bullying, saying they need to deal with things internally, as a community. Board chair Michael Forsayeth addressed the crowd, saying they need be a united front, and can’t let the outside pick them apart, because divided they will fall.
Reeves has been questioned about why he did not call police on a Monday evening when he received the video of the alleged sexual assault. He has told media he needed time to inform the parents of the victim, who was his first priority, and was busy with expulsion meetings, but “always intended to call police.”
He gave the video to police after they arrived at the school on Wednesday. By that point, reporters were calling police to ask about expulsions and the video.
Both Reeves and the school’s president, Father Jefferson Thompson, have the full support of the board, according to a statement released Wednesday.
“As a board, we are united in our support of the school’s leadership,” Forsayeth said in the statement, adding both Thompson and Reeves were hired because of their “dedication and care for students throughout their careers.”
“They are both men of the highest integrity and continue to have our trust to lead us forward,” the statement reads. “Witnessing the standing ovation at (Tuesday) night’s alumni meeting, many of whom are current and past parents, I believe that Fr. Thompson and Mr. Reeves have their overwhelming support. As a school community, we want to ensure that these incidents do not happen again.”
Police are investigating six incidents at the school, including the locker room video, one other alleged sexual assault, three alleged assaults and one incident related to threatening. Police have four videos, and are encouraging anyone with information to come forward.
Fraser said he would like to see Reeves step down.
“(Parents) are sending their kids there confident that the teachers and staff will protect their kids and give them a safe learning environment and it clearly wasn’t the case with what happened,” he said. “The only way for that bridge to be mended is that someone new has to come in, because once trust is broken it’s very very hard to regain.”
Fraser, who will complete his degree at Bowling Green State University in about three weeks, is happy to hear the school wants alumni to mentor students. He hopes to be one of them. The big question, he says, is why these incidents took place.
Fraser attended St. Michael’s between 2009 and 2013, and he believes the school’s toxic masculinity and “culture of hazing” played a role.
“It needs to stop and it needs to stop now.”
It looks as if you appreciate our journalism. Our reporting changes lives, connects communities and effects change. But good journalism is expensive to produce, and advertiser revenue throughout the media industry is falling and unable to carry the cost. That means we need you, our readers. We need your help. If you appreciate deep local reporting, powerful investigations and reliable, responsible information, we hope you will support us through a subscription. Please click here to subscribe.
With files from David Rider
Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74
May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11