The education system and the RCMP have continued to fail to address the needs of my son.
As a parent, I have tried my hardest to affect positive change for my son but have been driven to despair by the failure of the systems to deal with both the bullying and the bullies. Whose responsibility is it to make sure that schools provide a safe learning environment? And ultimately, what is all this teaching my son about the way the world really works here in the Comox Valley?
I applaud the students who have recently begun the Facebook page, Comox Valley Suicide Awareness, to raise community awareness about youth suicide. The fear, hurt, and stress caused by bullying can often lead to severe depression, causing suicide.
I also applaud our local newspapers for having courage to run these stories, thus allowing this very serious issue to be brought out into the open as something that can be talked about.
I offer my son’s story as an example of the reality many students face every day regarding bullying behaviour within our local school system. I share this story in hope other parents and students will have the courage to step forward and stand up to be part of the solution.
Beginning in Grade 7, his last year at Aspen Park Elementary, my youngest son has experienced ongoing systematic bullying from a core group of individuals. This bullying was first brought to the attention of a principal by a concerned parent who had printed out the Facebook comment thread containing numerous physical threats to my child.
A few examples are from one of the bullies, “get his friends to come back him up, I could probably take them all, I got bigger people to back me up that are 2 the size of you … you and your friends meet me Saturday 2:00 in front of Aspen, bring some ice, cause you’re gonna need it after I’m done with you.”
Another bully states to the first, “or you could ditch school and meet him before he gets outta school then lump him right away so he basically has to show up unless he doesn’t go to school.”
Bullying by the same group of students continued into his first year at Highland Secondary School, where he was subjected to bullying in the form of constant taunts, threats of physical violence, insults, being tripped in the hallways, his belongings taken and thrown in garbage cans, crank phone calls to our home, pushing and body checking in school hallways, and has now continued into his second year at Highland.
For the first few months of Grade 8, he endured the abuse in silence for fear of retribution from the bullies. However, when things got so bad he was overwhelmed with fear, hurt, and stress, he finally opened up to me about what had been occurring.
I asked him why he had not come forward sooner and his response was that he knew if he “told on them,” “they would make things 100 times worse for him” at school.
I then telephoned the school and advised his vice-principal of what had been occurring and asked that my son and I meet with her. During this meeting my son informed her that this bullying had been occurring since the beginning of the school year.
My son gave her the names of some of the main offenders. She then promised to bring these boys into her office to get their side of the story and deal with the issue. Also discussed briefly were some strategies my son could employ to help him ignore the bullies’ behaviour towards him.
At no time was there any mention of strategies the school could use to confront the abuser’s systematic bullying. To help him deal with the ongoing stress my son was advised to meet with a school counsellor on an ongoing basis, a suggestion he initially resisted.
I attended the initial meeting with a school counsellor and my son. During this meeting the strategies proposed to help my son included things such as making more friends and becoming involved in extra-curricular groups. No strategies for dealing with the offenders were ever proposed.
The bullying behaviour continued as per usual. In the spring of 2011 when the bullying again drove my son to breaking point, we again met with the vice-principal.
Again, even though names were given and promises of “talking to the boys involved” nothing was seen to be done to deal with the actual root of the problem. The options proposed at that time were to have my son not attend regular classes but continue with his core subjects such as English and math only.
It was proposed the teachers bring his work to the Advantage classroom so he would not have to be present in the hallways where much of the bullying was taking place. Ironically, this meant he was actually stuck in the very same classroom with the bullies because the bullies skip a lot of classes and have trouble in school, so need extra help.
There was the option of changing schools, however, due to the fact the bullies have a large network of friends through their involvement in the local hockey league the bullies were known to have friends in all of the local high schools. Therefore, this option was seen by my son as not viable. My son has played hockey for the past three years but this year opted out due to bullying.
There was also the option of taking him out of school completely and have him enrol in distance education completing all his work at home, again not a viable option for my son.
Throughout his Grade 8 year a vice-principal, school counsellor and others offered a listening ear and showed great empathy towards my son. However, with few real actions to add concrete support to their words all the good intentions in the world cannot create the necessary change needed to address and stop the bullying.
I would like to offer a special thanks to aboriginal education adviser Josie Andrews for her kindness and concern for my son and fellow students who have also experienced school bullying.
Last week, after constant harassment during a woodworking class, my son had his hat taken and thrown into a nearby garbage can. Being a just-turned 14-year-old child, he decided he had had enough that day and responded by picking up a plastic garbage can and aiming it at the offender. The offender, twice his size, then knocked him to the ground, put him in a headlock and proceeded to punch him forcefully in the head.
At his point my son’s friends intervened and pulled the student off my son. This incident occurred at the school-ending bell, in a main hallway, and in front of about 25 witnesses. The offending student was given an at-home suspension.
After the alarming escalation of the last incident and after the 18 months of bullying my son has endured, I decided it was time to confront the escalation with an escalation of my own and contacted the Courtenay RCMP detachment. When I contacted the detachment by telephone I was told by the person answering the telephone there were three youth liaison officers at the Courtenay detachment. I asked to be connected with one of them. I was told all three were out of the office and no one knew when any of them would be returning.
I asked to leave a voice mail with one or all of them and was told this was not possible. Half an hour later, I received a call from an officer. I enquired as to whether he was one of the youth liaison officers and he replied no. He went on to inform me that I did not need to speak with a youth liaison officer because they “all had the same training” and that by requesting to speak with a youth liaison officer I was implying this officer was not capable of handling the case.
After a brief conversation with both my son and I, the officer conducted a taped interview with my son alone in the interview room. At the end of the taped interview the officer then turned off his tape recorder and told my son that all he had to do was just learn to ignore the bullies and they would stop, and that my son was to also to blame because he had chosen a few times out of literally thousands of bullying incidents to respond to the bullies and fight back in some way. My son then left the room in complete and utter frustration.
Being bullied is hard enough but to have an authority figure such as an RCMP member tell a child he does not ever have the right to fight back against a bully, stand up to a bully, or respond to a bully’s abuse in any way other than trying to ignore it is absolutely devastating.
I give myself, my child’s school, School District 71, and our local RCMP detachment an “Epic Fail” grade for not stepping up to the plate and standing up to school bullying since the first youth suicide in 2009.
No adult should need reminding of how soul-destroying, hurtful, degrading, and humiliating it is to be the target of bullying. It is not, as some adults seem to believe, an inevitable ‘right of passage’ into adulthood.
Its consequences are serious and as we have recently witnessed, often times tragic. Yet every day children in our own community suffer verbal abuse, threats of violence, and actual violence from their peers and indifference from those in authority.
Bullying appears to be so endemic it is actually viewed as a normal part of our social fabric. It no longer is cause for any real concern.
When our children show the courage to ask for help it’s up to us as parents, teachers, and authority figures to step up to the plate and have the courage to respond with actions.
The victims need help. The perpetrators need help. Simply ignoring ullies and hoping they just “go away” is not an answer.