What else have you got? [bullying awareness & prevention]

NationalPost.com – Opinions/Editorial
Posted: February 20, 2010.  Editorial

Ontario’s legislature was in a self-congratulatory mood on Thursday, after getting all-party support for a resolution establishing the third week of November as “bullying awareness and prevention week.” The resolution was introduced by Progressive-Conservative education critic Elizabeth Witmer, a former school teacher.

“There is a culture of silence — if one-third of children are being bullied, and one-third acknowledge being the bully, we have a problem and we have to deal with it,” said Ms. Witmer.

“I am … delighted to work co-operatively with Elizabeth Witmer to continue to improve the safety of students in our schools,” said Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky.

Any small step to lessen the traumatic impact of bullying is progress, but feel-good resolutions adding to the list of officially recognized theme days won’t be enough to halt a problem we have tolerated for too long. Despite increased awareness, many adults still treat bullying as an unpleasant but inevitable part of childhood, acting on the theory that children must learn to fend for themselves. They fail to recognize the profoundly damaging effects this kind of playground torment has on its victims.

Ontario schools have been required to have anti-bullying programs in place since 2008, following a prevention action plan that recommended such programs be a priority of every school board. Other provinces similarly enforce anti-bullying initiatives.

Yet this clearly isn’t enough. Schoolyards are danger zones for many children. Katie Neu, speaking at a press conference accompanying Ms. Witmer’s resolution, recounted being bullied from kindergarten through grade 9. “If you wanted to be popular, you bullied me. I was the school’s punching bag,” said Neu, now 18.

Krisha Stanton, an Ottawa-area mother, has launched a $325,000 lawsuit against the Ottawa Catholic School Board, including a teacher and several administrators, claiming they failed to protect her daughter against persistent attacks. Ms. Stanton alleges her child was bullied to the point where she would vomit at the sight of the school bus, but her entreaties were met with complacency.

Another suit was filed by a Kitchener mother who alleges her son has been repeatedly attacked over a period of more than a year, but authorities failed to act accordingly.

We can’t just blame the teachers. Educators have been overwhelmed with demands from parents and boards that increasingly treat them as if they, rather than parents, are responsible for raising our children. Yes, teachers are the ones best-placed and best-suited to spot signs of bullying, but principals, board members and especially parents must all also be intimately involved, and held responsible, if teachers fail to act. Bullies, not their victims, should be punished, and bullies’ parents should be under no illusion about the seriousness with which their children’s actions are viewed.

Ontario obviously has good intentions. But it’s going to take more than another theme week on the calendar to solve this problem.

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