Bul­ly­ing prob­lem in Har­bour Grace

Par­ents of stu­dents at St. Fran­cis School speak out against phys­i­cal and ver­bal abuse


Edi­tor’s note: Names of some par­ents and stu­dents have been with­held due to fear of re­tal­i­a­tion and the sen­si­tive na­ture of the sub­ject.

An 11-year-old boy gets punched in the back of the head on the school bus.

Two Grade 5 boys screamed foul com­ments and curse words at a young girl in the hall­ways at school dur­ing re­cess.

A sixth grader was repet­i­tively kicked by an­other stu­dent dur­ing gym class.

Get­ting ready to go home from school, a young boy gets shoved hard into the side of his bus by an older girl.

These were some of the sto­ries that were re­layed to The Com­pass from par­ents and stu­dents at St. Fran­cis School in Har­bour Grace when word spread that a seem­ingly in­creased amount of bul­ly­ing was tak­ing place.

Al­though the bul­lies and vic­tims var­ied in age and gen­der, the par­ents all agreed it’s a se­ri­ous prob­lem at the school and some­thing has to be done.

Frac­tured foot

With his foot wrapped in a cast and crutches un­der his arms, Oliver Har­ris, who’s in Grade 6, strug­gles to get in and out of his mom’s car go­ing to and from school.

But that is how he has been go­ing to school ev­ery day for the past two weeks. He had to learn how to walk with his foot wrapped, but learned it’s eas­i­est to hob­ble around.

Oliver still tries to keep a smile on his face, but finds it dif­fi­cult when he has to come face-to-face with his tor­men­tor on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

His mom Jes­se­lyn says Oliver has been a tar­get since kinder­garten, but this time it has gone much far­ther than ever be­fore, and it may only be so long be­fore he tries to take mat­ters into his own hands.

Jes­se­lyn doesn’t con­done vi­o­lence, but Oliver has di­ag­nosed be­havioural dis­or­ders that have led to him hurt­ing him­self in the past. He has not hurt other chil­dren, but she fears it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore he gets to that point.

Al­though the school is “deal­ing with” the is­sue, Jes­se­lyn feels enough hasn’t been done to date, and the

re­sult was her son’s frac­tured foot.

Dif­fer­ent views on deal­ing

Four sep­a­rate par­ents agreed the school has done very lit­tle to as­sist stu­dents who are be­ing bul­lied.

A mother to a Grade 4 stu­dent told The Com­pass the school isn’t do­ing enough about her daugh­ter’s bully. In fact, she ex­plains her daugh­ter is not the only one picked on by the same child.

“The child should have been re­moved from the class­room or have one- on- one su­per­vi­sion,” she ex­plained.

That is one of the op­tions the New­found­land and Labrador English School Board noted as some­thing to help vic­tims of bul­ly­ing — giv­ing the bully an in-school sus­pen­sion.

Jeff Thomp­son, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion with the school board, said ev­ery in­stance of bul­ly­ing is han­dled in a dif­fer­ent way, in re­spect to the sever­ity of the sit­u­a­tion.

“Ob­vi­ously, NLESD takes very se­ri­ously, in­ci­dences of bul­ly­ing,” he said dur­ing a phone in­ter­view with The Com­pass Feb. 10.

Be­sides the sever­ity of the of­fense, the age of the child also comes into play when deal­ing with in­stances of bul­ly­ing.

Some rep­ri­mands that have been ap­proved by the school board in­clude the in-school sus­pen­sion, an out-of-school sus­pen­sion that could last one to five days — or longer pend­ing ap­proval from the board — and be­havioural sup­ports where a bully works with people in author­ity to curb their so­cial is­sues.

The school board could not con­firm if there were any ac­tive bul­ly­ing re­ports at St. Fran­cis, or how they were be­ing dealt with. It was, how­ever, noted that some ar­eas of the prov­ince and some schools go through spurts.

“In­stances vary from time-to­time,” Thomp­son ex­plained. “Schools could have long pe­ri­ods of quiet­ness and then have a se­ries of in­stances.”

The mother of two schoolaged chil­dren said it has been con­sis­tent in the Har­bour Grace school sys­tem for years and has not seen change dur­ing that time.

Most par­ents had a sim­i­lar story. Their chil­dren or their chil­dren’s friends have been tar­gets for an ex­tended pe­riod of time.

Only one mother con­cluded her child was only a tar­get this year. Her sixth grader has come home with headaches on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions af­ter hav­ing his head slammed into the side of a bus.

She said the school and RCMP had been con­tacted, but nei­ther could do more than just speak with the child or their par­ents.

The Safe and Car­ing Schools Pol­icy that was re­vised last year is said to help pro­vide a safe en­vi­ron­ment for the chil­dren. Par­ents have said they do not feel their chil­dren are safe.

The pol­icy fo­cuses on es­tab­lish­ing clear ex­pec­ta­tions for all mem­bers of the school com­mu­nity, en­cour­age ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion and en­cour­age proac­tive and pre­ven­ta­tive en­deav­ours when sit­u­a­tions oc­cur. Many par­ents who spoke with The Com­pass claimed they had not been ed­u­cated on the pol­icy.

The Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion decl ined in­ter­view re­quests for clar­i­fi­ca­tion on the pol­icy and how it is be­ing im­ple­mented. The prin­ci­pal also de­clined an in­ter­view.

Thomp­son ex­plained there has been a hand­book for a long time on the pol­icy, but it is up to the school to ed­u­cate par­ents. Some schools, he said, use par­ent-teacher in­ter­views as the place to ex­plain it, but par­ents deny be­ing in­formed.

“The kids of this prov­ince who are be­ing bul­lied need hope, en­cour­age­ment and to be able to see some­one who’s been through this and sur­vived.” — Jennifer Austin of Port de Grave

Pro­gram op­tions

Thomp­son ex­plained the school board is se­ri­ous about pro­mot­ing anti- bul­ly­ing through­out the prov­ince. But Jennifer Austin of Port de Grave, a 31year-old mother of two, feels schools have been shut­ting her out of her anti-bul­ly­ing cam­paign, called “ban­ish bul­ly­ing, be the change.”

The cam­paign in­cludes a short as­sem­bly for the school where Jennifer de­scribes the bul­ly­ing she ex­pe­ri­enced in school, and gives each child the op­por­tu­nity to sign a dec­la­ra­tion stat­ing they will not bully oth­ers.

“I have con­tacted ev­ery school on the Avalon and no one seems to want this,” she said. “The kids of this prov­ince who are be­ing bul­lied need hope, en­cour­age­ment and to be able to see some­one who’s been through this and sur­vived.”

Jennifer has started a blog to tell the story of her own mis­treat­ment (be­strong­take­heart.word­press.com).

“It’s a topic that hits close to home for me,” she ex­plained.

The cam­paign was ex­plained to sev­eral par­ents, and they agreed it would be a good place for anti-bul­ly­ing at St. Fran­cis, and other schools, to start.

An in­crease of phys­i­cal vi­o­lence and bul­ly­ing at St. Fran­cis in Har­bour Grace have been re­ported on so­cial me­dia in re­cent weeks.

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