In the third part of our series on bullying, the Huntsville Forester discusses the issue with school officials and police.
School officials say it’s important to report bullying so that it can be addressed.
Illustration by Mandi Hargrave
HUNTSVILLE – Bullied students often dread the idea of having to walking into their school only to face another day of torture. But instead of reporting the bullying, they take on the stress alone, which is what the Trillium Lakelands District School Board doesn’t want to see.
“Kids always feel that by telling they’ll make the situation worse and the actual fact is it will get better,” assures Heather Truscott, special programs consultant with the board.
Truscott works on a number of initiatives within the school board such as equity and inclusion, safe schools, character development, aboriginal and environmental initiatives – all programs to promote a positive school climate so all students feel accepted and respected in their school. She’s also worked with the Institute for Educational Leadership on The Accepting Schools Act (Bill 13).
Truscott insists students should not deal with bullying on their own.
“First of all, they’re talking it through, hopefully with a very caring adult, and once they’ve talked it through it alleviates some of the stress that’s been on them initially and there will be a response; if it’s at a school there has to be a response. Sometimes the perception is that even when there’s a response it gets worse but eventually the situation will resolve itself, if we work hard enough at it. So it’s very important that someone tells because it’s not going to get better if they don’t. It’s just not.”
Kim Williams, principal with Huntsville High School, agreed and also echoed that in order to deal with bullying it needs to be reported.
“The key is if we know about it we can deal with it and be supportive to the student being bullied, deal with the consequences and try and change the behaviour of the bully,” she said. “But we have to know about these things.”
If the bullied student doesn’t feel comfortable reporting bullying to school officials, their parents or any other adult – all schools in the board have a “report bullying” link on their websites – or another student can phone the school and leave a message.
“We investigate things that don’t even happen at school,” said Williams. “We investigate things that happen on weekends, a lot on cyber, because they affect the moral tone of the school. It’s not that we want to be nosy but if a student comes to us and feels uncomfortable because of something that’s occurred, then we will investigate. If it comes to our attention we will never say, ‘It’s none of our business, it happened on the weekend. I’m sorry if you feel uncomfortable.’ That’s not who we are. Our job is to make all of our students feel comfortable here.”
While bullying isn’t new in schools, the electronic component of bullying is. Everything from Facebook posts to texts.
“They’re the first generation without boundaries, not knowing what they’re boundaries are … it’s a teachable moment for us all, especially with electronic communication,” said Truscott.
She said online bullying is easier to follow because it’s trackable and students can get in just as much trouble for something they post online, as they can for saying something directly to another student.
While the board has a definition of bullying – typically a form of repeated, persistent, and aggressive behaviour directed at an individual or individuals that is intended to cause (or ought reasonably to be known to cause) fear and distress and/or harm to another person’s body, feelings, self esteem, or reputation. Bullying occurs in a context where there is either a real or a perceived power imbalance – Truscott said there isn’t a standard profile of a bully.
“Every individual person would be approaching this for a different reason,” Truscott said. “Often times too, it’s not a conscious decision to say, ‘I’m going to bully someone today,’ it’s a reaction, it’s a response. Maybe it’s a learned response, maybe it’s that they’ve learned it from any number of places, maybe it’s their way of dealing with conflict … it could be that they’ve had a crummy day and that was their response.”
Just as much as the high school works to support students who are bullied, they support bullies as well, instead of simply suspending or expelling them, to correct the underlying issue that could be causing the student to bully others.
“The goal is to change the behaviour and often there is an underlying reason for the behaviour, so it’s spending time to find out what is actually causing the behaviour so it doesn’t continue to occur,” said Williams.
“You change one person who is being a bully, think of the trajectory of lives that affects,” said Truscott. “It’s not just that one person, it’s all the other lives that person has been touching or will be touching in the future. It’s the circle of influence.”
Bullies may think their actions have no consequences, but they can be criminally charged for their behaviour, whether it be a face-to-face or online interaction.
“We don’t ever want to get to the point where we have to charge kids under the criminal code for specifics around bulllying,” said Const. Lynda Cranney, community safety officer. “Bullying isn’t the act. The act is harassment, uttering threats, mischief to property or taking someone’s right to enjoy something away.”
Police officers work closely with schools and parents to do everything they can before the situation escalates to charges.
However, if a death threat is uttered the student will be charged immediately.
“I think the biggest thing to remember is to be respectful,” said Cranney. “You don’t have to like each other, but it’s about being respectful. The consequences could be criminal charges.”
Williams and Truscott facilitate a Power to Change Camp that was developed through the school board and Free the Children to work with bullies.
In the last two years, they’ve worked with 25 students across the board in Grades 7 to 9 who have shown relational aggression issues in school.
“We work with these kids for a weekend, trying to redirect their leadership qualities, which have been used in a negative way into a positive way and we send them back into their schools with an action plan … we follow up a year, sometimes two years after they’ve been to the camp and the change it’s made in some of the kids has been absolutely incredible,” said Truscott.
Bullying is a long-term issue said director of education with the school board, Larry Hope. He’s confident that through partnerships among teachers, parents, police and students they can make a difference and at the least reduce bullying in schools.
“I’m convinced that we have the best generation of Canadians in our schools right now,” he said. “When you come into our schools and you see the incredible things that young people are doing to support one another, to be agents of social change, to be agents of social justice, this is a phenomenal group of young people we have in our schools right this moment.”
Students in Grades 7 and 8 at Muskoka Falls Public School have started a Just Hush anti-bullying campaign on their own. Their message is that if you don’t have something nice to say, just hush.
Williams agreed with Hope and said fighting back against bullying goes beyond the walls of a school and is the responsibility of the whole community.
“Don’t be a bystander, take a stance,” she said. “If you see something that doesn’t feel right, doesn’t look right, it’s not right and it needs to be stopped. Whether you as an adult can intervene or you report it. It’s the idea that the community as a whole has to take a stance.”
Next week the Forester will speak with child therapist Alyson Schafer on how parents can identify whether their child is a bully or is being bullied.