In sup­port of St. Fran­cis

The Compass - - OPINION - — Terry Roberts

"All chil­dren de­serve to learn and grow in peace­ful schools and com­mu­ni­ties. En­sur­ing our young people have the op­por­tu­nity to be suc­cess­ful in school — and ul­ti­mately, in life — re­quires safe and car­ing schools where teach­ers, stu­dents, par­ents and the broader com­mu­nity work to­gether to re­spect and sup­port each other.”

The above state­ment can be found in the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion's Safe and Car­ing Schools Pol­icy, and, in a nut­shell, it's what ev­ery re­spon­si­ble par­ent ex­pects — and de­serves — when they en­trust their chil­dren to the school sys­tem.

Thank­fully, there’s been a con­certed ef­fort in this prov­ince to live up to that state­ment in re­cent years, largely be­cause there has been in­creased de­bate and pub­lic aware­ness sur­round­ing is­sues such as bul­ly­ing. The adop­tion of this pol­icy in 2006, and a sub­se­quent re­vi­sion in 2013, marked a gi­ant step for­ward in ef­forts to en­sure schools are a safe place to teach and learn.

Has the pol­icy de­liv­ered on what it was in­tended to do? That’s en­tirely de­bat­able, though one thing is clear: in or­der for it to work, it re­quires on­go­ing lead­er­ship and com­mit­ment at ev­ery level — govern­ment, school board, school ad­min­is­tra­tors and teach­ers, and es­pe­cially at home, from the par­ents.

And it re­quires open and frank dis­cus­sion, sim­i­lar to the de­bate and, yes, con­tro­versy cre­ated by an ar­ti­cle in the Feb. 17 edi­tion of The Com­pass, head­lined “Bul­ly­ing prob­lem in Har­bour Grace.”

The Com­pass de­cided to pur­sue the ar­ti­cle af­ter hear­ing from sev­eral par­ents, ex­press­ing con­cern about what they claimed was a trou­bling bul­ly­ing prob­lem at St. Fran­cis, a newly re­con­fig­ured kinder­garten to Grade 8 school. We reached out on a broader level through so­cial me­dia and other means for greater in­put from the school com­mu­nity, and heard from even more par­ents who ex­pressed a sim­i­lar sen­ti­ment.

They shared sto­ries that raised eye­brows, and we felt they were worth reporting. We also set out to tell the whole story, know­ing full well how sen­si­tive and emo­tional is­sues like bul­ly­ing has be­come. Un­for­tu­nately, we fell short in our ef­forts to present a com­plete pic­ture of the sit­u­a­tion, and for that, we of­fer our re­grets.

Are there in­ci­dents of bul­ly­ing at St. Fran­cis? Ab­so­lutely, just like at ev­ery other school in our prov­ince and be­yond. Is the sit­u­a­tion out of con­trol? No. Are a small mi­nor­ity of stu­dents re­spon­si­ble for the prob­lem? Yes. Are mem­bers of the staff do­ing ev­ery­thing in their power to com­bat the prob­lem? Based on the feed­back we heard last week, we be­lieve that to be the case.

We have since been told that great strides have been made at the school in re­cent years, and that the ad­just­ment pe­riod that ac­com­pa­nies any re­con­fig­u­ra­tion has been rel­a­tively smooth.

It was not our in­tent to cast St. Fran­cis in a neg­a­tive light or, as one teacher stated, “rip the heart and soul” out of the school. We ap­pre­ci­ate and un­der­stand that ed­u­ca­tors have a very dif­fi­cult task in try­ing to deal with is­sues such as bul­ly­ing, and not even a fancy new pol­icy is go­ing to com­pletely erase those chal­lenges.

Bal­anc­ing the needs of a broad cross-sec­tion of stu­dents, most of whom come to school each day ea­ger to learn and be part of their school com­mu­nity, is a chal­lenge very few of us could han­dle. We’re con­fi­dent that most ed­u­ca­tors are up to the task, and they have our full sup­port.

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