As some of you who are my friends on facebook know, my daughter (12) won her local speech competition last weekend. What you don’t know is that her topic was bullying.
We are no strangers to dealing with bullying issues at our house. For years, my oldest daughter had to deal with the name calling, which turned into the threats, which turned into physical threats, which turned into physical acts of violence and hostility, which (for a short while) turned into stalking and eventually was a big factor in our move to a town an hour away from where she grew up.
We talked to the school, I was a parent council member for a while and so was my husband. We talked to the teachers, tried to arrange meetings with the parents of the bullies, talked to the principals, the school board, the superintendent and finally, the college of teachers and the police.
NOTHING WAS EVER RESOLVED
My youngest daughter, the one now doing her speech tomorrow at the regional level, is also no stranger to bullying. She is teased, picked on, socially ostracized, and threatened. It’s a vicious cycle. And here’s one of the biggest problems with it as I see it, from the kids point of view. If they report each incident, she is either told that it is not serious enough to be reported OR that the teacher/vice principal/principal will ‘deal with it’. Which often means a verbal talking to of the perpetrator(s). HOWEVER, any kid who has ever been bullied knows that the instigators will just put on the adorable kid face to whomever is doing the “talking to”, will cry innocence, will try to blame your kid for ‘starting it’ or will fake an apology. And then…your kid will get it even worse and in ever more sneaky ways for tattling. So, the kid stops complaining and keeps quiet, enduring the ridicule, teasing, threats or even acts of bullying day after day. When it gets bad enough to complain again, YOUR KID will be told off by the school for not reporting each incident as it happened.
When our oldest daughter was in grade six, it got so bad that one of the kids who had been bothering her had brought into school a sawed off piece of metal pipe, which was shoved under her chin one recess and she was threatened with being beaten with it. This school, with the ZERO tolerance policy, took away the pipe (until the end of the day) told the kid to ‘stop it’, and told them that they were not permitted to bring this item back to school again. They did not report this incident to me, my daughter told me about it. When I went to the school to complain, I was told it was already ‘handled’. My daughter was seeing a counselor at the time to deal with the issues that had come from all this torment and the counselor gave her a journal to write in. Now, my daughter often found herself finished projects in class time early (she’s really smart) and had free time, so one day she took out her journal in class and started to write about a girl who had called her some fairly nasty names that day at recess. She needed to vent, and she had her outlet. The girl in question snuck a peak at the journal, saw her own name in writing and complained to the teacher. The teacher then confiscated my daughter’s journal and informed her that she would keep it locked up until the end of the school year! It was March.
I stormed straight to the school that afternoon immediately after she came home and told me what happened (because again, the school did not inform me of anything) and demanded the teacher return her private property.
In the only time I have ever lost my cool in all this madness, I flipped out. The teacher was refusing to return the journal to me. She said that my daughter had no right to put hurtful things about other students in writing. In a hallway that had other kids, a few parents and the principal, I yelled at her.
I told her I was sick of my kid being made to be the scapegoat and the school not dealing with it. I told her that the journal was given to her by her counselor as a means to deal with the stress of the bullying that took place every day in those very halls and that it was her private business what she wrote in it. I said to this teacher, that I didn’t care if my daughter called the teacher herself a fucking bitch in that journal, it was no one’s business but her own and that if she didn’t return the journal to me right that moment, I was going to sue her for harassment. The journal was returned.
Now, as a parent I don’t shoot my mouth off like that anymore. At least, not in the school, I save it for the privacy of my own home. But I do make sure that I document everything and follow it through as high up as need be until something is done, because, and here’s where I wrap back to my daughter’s speech, it seems like nothing is being done!
My daughter’s speech opens with a very dark scenario. (No, I did not help her write it) where she describes someone running away, scared, alone and being chased. She describes the crunch of ice under the person’s feet and she describes the sound of jeers coming from not too far behind them. She talks about a fist that comes up too late to be dodged and the person falling to the ground amidst the laughter of the others. She talks about how bullying will never go away and will never change. And she’s right.
In a province where almost every school system has a zero tolerance policy, I’m left to wonder more and more whether they meant zero tolerance of bullies, or zero tolerance of having to deal with providing a safe haven for the children, because honestly, what I see is the latter, not the former. I have a friend whose child has been repeatedly punched in the face at school by the same kid over the last few weeks and the school’s response to her? They have banned this kid from outside recess. That’s all. She has requested a suspension, they will not do it. She has requested intervention, they will not do it. And I ask, why not??
Parents, the time has come for us to start getting louder. Take this fight over the heads of the individual schools who are obviously not dealing with the matter and start going to the council of teachers and the ministry.
It’s time to yell loudly: enough is enough.