Stop Bullying Now – It’s Our Collective Responsibility

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Canadian Statistics:

  • Bullying occurs once every 7 minutes on the playground and once every 25 minutes in the classroomBetween 50% and 75% of students reported being emotionally, verbally or  physically bullied
  • In a majority of cases, bullying stops within 10 seconds when peers intervene, or do not support the bullying behaviour
  • 38% of girls and 26% of boys report being cyberbullied.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.   Hate cannot drive out hate;only love can do that.   (Martin Luther King Jr.)

The recent suicide of an 11-year-old boy with muscular dystrophy months after his assault by a bully at school, and the announcement only last week of the suicide of the son of Ottawa city councillor Allan Hubley, who was bullied and trying to cope with “his depression and his sexuality” are the latest tragedies in our province that make plain the very real impact of bullying, and the need to stop it.  Now.

Parents entrust their children to our care.  They trust that we will provide a school learning environment “which supports and embraces diversity within its Catholic community, demonstrates respect for all, and values each as child of God” (TCDSB, Catholic EIE Policy) and provides their children with the tools they need to meet the Ontario Catholic school graduate expectations.  Those graduate expectations, reflective of our faith, speak to the whole person:  a discerning believer, an effective communicator, a reflective and creative thinker, a responsible life-long learner, a collaborative contributor, a caring family member, and a responsible citizen.

Our schools must be places of safety, inclusion and – given our faith – compassion, love and dignity, especially when it comes to the most vulnerable.   Our schools are governed by a range of Safe School policies – some of which have been in place for some time.  Our Violence Prevention Policy, Statement of Principle begins, “the TCDSB strives to create school communities where a sense of belonging, of ownership and of caring for one another prevails.   Such a community must be characterized by a safe and harmonious working environment in which the needs and well-being of every individual are paramount.”

This understanding of collective responsibility is seen again in our Safe Schools Policy, Code of Conduct which states that “every member of our community shares in the responsibility for creating a positive environment that is safe, harmonious, comfortable, inclusive and respectful.”

In support of creating safe learning environments each school has a Safe Schools Team that is composed of at least one student (where appropriate), one parent, one teacher, one non-teaching staff member, one community partner, and the principal.   Students need to know that they have access to a trained, caring adult with whom they can speak – whether that be a teacher, chaplain, counselor, or social worker.

When children are loved, they live off trust; their bides and hearts open up to those who  respect and love them, who understand and listen to them.  (Jean Vanier, Becoming Human)

We ‘will not tolerate anti-social or violent behaviour in our schools.’  (Safe Schools, Standards of Behaviour).  All members of our school communities must:

  • demonstrate honesty and integrity
  • respect differences in people, their ideas and opinions
  • treat one and other with dignity and respect at all times
  • respect and treat others fairly, regardless of their race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability
  • respect the rights of others
  • take appropriate measures to help others in need.

We ‘will not tolerate behaviour that jeopardizes the emotional well-being or physical safety of members of the school community.’ (Violence Prevention Policy).  All of our students and staff are to:

  • be respected by all members of the school community
  • work and learn in a safe, orderly and positive environment
  • access facilities and to participate in programs offered by the school without fear of violence;
  • respect all members of the school community
  • contribute positively to the Christian climate of the school.

Our Victim’s Rights Policy the only one of its kind in the province – states that “in every school setting and every school-sponsored activity, each actual or intended victim who has suffered or may be reasonably expected to suffer intentionally inflicted harm, whether physical, mental or emotional, as a result of the action of one or more others, has the right:

  • of access to immediate required care and physical assistance
  • to emotional, spiritual and moral support, and
  • to reasonable and adequate protection against future harm.”

It’s clear:  each member of the community has a role to play in the well being of our students.   This should include the promotion of the role of the ‘helpful bystander’ to help erase bullying from our schools.  Looking to the Gospel, in the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ Jesus makes it clear that the ‘neighbour’ we must love to inherit eternal life is anyone who is in need – and that love must include action on our part.

Eyes of Bullying highlights that “adults can prepare children to become helpful bystanders by discussing with them the different ways bystanders can make a difference, and by letting them know that adults will support them, if and when they step forward.  Adults can also provide examples of how helpful bystanders have shown courage and made a difference in real-life situations and in their own experiences. ”

At last week’s Board meeting,  I submitted a direction to staff – supported by my fellow trustees –  that the role of the bystander be added to our Safe Schools policy.  We should be provided with a revised policy for roll-out to our schools shortly.

 You can do nothing with children unless you win their confidence and love by bringing them in touch with yourself, by breaking through all the hindrances that keep them at a distance.  We must accommodate ourselves to their tastes; we must make ourselves like them. (St. John Bosco)

 In keeping with the secure and loving communities our Catholic schools are meant to be, all students should be provided access to a safe and supervised space to gather and discuss issues related to bullying, and to develop strategies to improve the school climate, and ensure we are true witnesses of our faith whether that bullying is a result of the person’s race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or any other quality.

At last week’s Board meeting, staff reported on the results of the 2010 – 2011 student ‘climate surveys.  16,335 students took part in the survey on school safety and positive climate:

  • 96% of elementary and 91% of secondary schools students ‘feel very safe or safe’ in our schools.
  • 38% of elementary and 45% of secondary students have experienced bullying.
  • 65% of both elementary and secondary students have witnessed another student being bullied, but only 24% of elementary and 12% of secondary students reported the bullying.

So, while we have in place both system-wide policies, and school-based supports for our students, bullying exists in our schools.   And behaviour that is not addressed becomes accepted behaviour.  As a result, we must, and are, continuing to look for new ways to create loving and respectful school communities, as well as better respond to actions which are taking place outside of our schools which impact the school culture and climate (e.g. cyberbullying).

  Preach the Gospel at all times.   If necessary, use words.  (St. Francis of Assisi)

 So, what does all this mean for our students?   It should mean that they are safe, respected and loved, and are provided with a learning environment which develops their whole person (mental, spiritual and physical), and enables each student to both identify and fulfill their life’s true vocation.

To meet that expectation, it is clear that we must continue to develop and roll-out new and creative strategies to stop bullying – strategies which must be developed in partnership with, and assisted by, parents, parishes and the broader community.

We each have a role to play if we are to stop bullying in our schools – it’s our collective responsibility.

1 Comment

  1. I have two comments. First, in the primary grades ( I used to be a volunteer on duty for a while)
    the kids have groups. The “cool” group bullies the other kids by social exclusion. Kids at that age are not mature enough to report it, and the members of the “cool” group may change during the school year, so a bully may become a victim and vice versa.

    For teenagers, being a good samaritain or a bystander does not mean to report an incident but to take the matter in their own hands. We need to make sure that the kids trust the teachers and the prinicpal of the school before we encourage them to get involved.

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