Wednesday, August 31, 2011

System Changes Needed

Our Ministry of Education has invested 230 million dollars into the social issue of bullying, yet the numbers have not changed

What I mean when I say that is The World Health Organization (WHO) has decreed bullying a “global social health problem”. It has reached epidemic proportions. In fact, a 2009 WHO report rated Canada 26th out of 35 developed nations surveyed. Bullying has direct criminal, mental, educational and physical health implications. This is a societal problem and not just one for our Ministry of Education to tackle on it’s own.

It’s also time for systemic changes. There is a roadblock involved at the school board level right now, and it is as a direct result of the way our legislation is written. You may not be aware, but if a student has been suspended for bullying, that suspension can be challenged and examined. There is an appeal process. On the other hand, bullied pupils and their parents are not in a position to challenge the principal’s choice to not exercise suspension as a form of accountability. This is the roadblock my own family ran into.

It’s time to stop treating the bullies as faceless entities, and get to the source of their contempt and motive. It’s time to put into place further resources for their victims. It’s time to implement concrete supports for our bystanders so that they can find the courage to report, and stand up to say “not here, not now”. It is time to work together.

A recent report released by the Thames Valley District School Board has indicated that there is a direct link between bullying and mental health issues........for all involved. As a direct result of bullying, once happy, healthy and academically successful students turn into students with anxiety, depression and substance abuse. Now we have a bigger problem. Motivation and success slowly starts to slip away, and at great cost.

In Ontario all schools have to follow the Ministry of Education definition of bullying: “Bullying is typically a form of repeated, persistent and aggressive behaviour directed at an individual or individuals that is intended to cause (or should be known to cause) fear and distress and/or harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem or reputation. Bullying occurs in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance.”

I don’t know how old that definition is, but experts now state that it doesn’t have to be a “repeated” act. Once, just once, is enough.

How many of you here today understand what a bully really is? Or, how many of you think being bullied is just a normal part of growing up. There are a number of misconceptions out there over those very two things.

First of all, our experts will tell you it’s not a normal part of growing up or a right of passage. It’s not an issue where you tell your kids “suck it up” or “ignore it”. It is an extremely serious health problem which will adversely affect a lot of people if you truly don’t understand the ramifications.

The Bully

There are four markers of bullying. They consist of an imbalance of power, intent to harm, threat of further aggression, and when that aggression escalates ....terror. Bullying is not about anger, or even about conflict. It’s about contempt, a feeling of dislike toward someone considered by the bully to be worthless, inferior or un-derserving of respect. Contempt comes with three apparent psychological advantages that allow kids to harm others without feeling empathy, compassion or shame. The bully can feel any one of the following three things:

1. A sense of entitlement, which is the right to control, dominate and abuse another human being.
2. An intolerance towards difference.
3. The liberty to exclude, bar or isolate a person deemed not worthy of respect or care.

The Bullied

There is one thing that all kids who are bullied have in common. This is that the bully or a bunch of bullies has targeted them. Each bullied child was singled out to be the object of scorn and the recipient of bullying, merely because he or she was different in some way.

As a parent, would you know what to look for in your child that might be a warning sign that your child is being bullied. Or, if you are a student who has been bullied, have you ever done any of the following things.

Here are some warning signs:

1. Shows an abrupt lack of interest in school, or refuses to go to school.
2. Takes an unusual route to school.
3. Suffers a drop in grades.
4. Withdraws from family and school activities.
5. Is hungry after school.
6. Steals money from home.
7. Makes a beeline for the bathroom when arriving home.
8. Is sad, sullen, angry or scared after receiving a phone call or e-mail.
9. Does something out of character.
10. Has torn or missing clothing.
11. Uses derogatory or demeaning language when talking about peers.
12. Has stomach aches, headaches, panic attacks and is unable to sleep, sleeps too much.

There is one other extremely important thing that bullied kids do. They don’t tell anyone that they are being targeted because they are:

1. ashamed
2. they are afraid of retaliation
3. they don’t think anyone can or will help them
4. they have bout into the lie that bullying is a necessary part of growing up
5. they might believe that adults are part of that lie because they bully too
6. “rating” on a peer is not cool

Now we have the bystander who many experts say plays the most important role

Bystanders are the third group of players in this tragedy. They are the supporting cast who aid and abet the bully. They stand idly by or look away, or they can actively encourage the bully or they join in and become one of a bunch of bullies. However, bullying is challenged when the majority of bystanders stand up against cruel acts. When this is done, a new norm will be established. Since much of the bullying goes on “under the radar of adults” a force to be reckoned with is the bystander showing bullies that they will not be looked up to, nor will their cruel behaviour be tolerated. They can become active witnesses standing up for their peers and speaking out against injustices, and taking responsibility for what happened amongst themselves.

If you are a parent who wants to inform their school of a bullying situation, there is protocol that must be followed. A chain of command for a lack of a better term. Visit your board website. Familiarize yourself with the Code of Conduct and Safe School Policy and of utmost importance, conduct yourself in a respectful and professional manner if you want your voice to be heard.

If your matter does not get resolved at the school board level, there are other options available. As a community, we must all work together.

I ask that you inform and educate yourself on this issue. Your child may not be a bully, a bystander, or victim now, but they could be some day. Have some open dialogue with your children on this issue at the dinner table some time.

Excerpts from The Bully, the bullied, and the bystander, by Barbara Coloroso

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Facts about Bullying


• A child is bullied every 20 seconds in Canada.
• A 2008 Harvard University study found that “bullying and harassment, most often by peers, are the most frequent threats that minors face, both online and offline.”
• According to recent data from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Health Behaviours in School-aged Children survey, Canada does not fare well on the world stage in addressing bullying problems. Canada ranked 26th and 27th out of 35 countries on measures of bullying and victimization, respectively.
• Across all categories of bullying and victimization, Canadian students consistently reported rates of bullying and victimization that ranked at or below the middle of the international group. In her article, “Binoculars on Bullying,” Dr. Debra Pepler aptly stated:

[t]his situation is even more discouraging because Canada’s rates have stayed approximately the same over the past decade, but Canada’s ranking in the WHO surveys has dropped over the same time period…other countries are making inroads in addressing bullying problems, while our efforts seem to be stalled.

• Canadian children are not safe from bullying.
• For every child concerned about being sexually abused by adults, there are three children concerned about abuse by peers.
• From an international standpoint, the WHO Health Behaviours survey tells us that we are failing to protect our children.
• The consequences of bullying are real. Bullying “not only robs self-confidence, affects physical health and leaves behind a long-term legacy for both victims and those who bully, it also destroys lives and futures.”
• Bullying must be addressed early as it has significant implications for later perpetrations of sexual harassment and dating aggression and may extend to workplace harassment, as well as marital, child, and elder abuse.

Safety is a Fundamental Human Right

• Sadly, 140,000 Ontario children dread returning to an environment toxic to them; this is the dark side of education.
• These children’s' lives and those of their family members have been altered forever.
• Many children wonder how they will survive life in the public school system from one day to the next.
• Students in our publicly funded education system are required to return and attend each day, even where their lives, innocence, and well-being are endangered.
• Current Ontario legislation, which addresses bullying through the Education Act, does not adequately deal with bullying perpetrated by, or against youth, and fails to protect children and adolescents.
• This is in contrast to adults, who are entitled to legislative protections under the Criminal Code, the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Bill 168 amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act—protections that a lot of children do not have because of their age. The law in this area is dispersed and not easily understood or applied, especially for children.
• Every child and youth has the right to be safe and free from involvement in bullying.
• Children in all three roles with respect to bullying—those who are bullied, those who bully others, and those who know it is going on—can be negatively affected.
• Further support for this argument can be found in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a signatory. Article 29 specifies that education shall be directed to:

[t]he preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of the sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin. As a society, therefore, we must educate children to ensure they develop positive attitudes and behaviours and avoid using their power to bully or harass others.

• The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child also addresses the rights of children who are at the receiving end of bullying and harassment. Article 19 of the Convention states:

Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.

• It is time to view the problem of bullying through a different lens for a more effective way of addressing this important issue—one that has serious implications.
• Transparency is crucial to reducing the incidences and enduring consequences of bullying.

Ontario’s Protection in the Workplace: Bill 168


• Bill 168 was enacted to protect adults from violence and harassment in the workplace.
• Children, a more vulnerable group, are not afforded the same protection from similar behaviour at school. Legislation should be drafted to provide children with this protection.
• The legislation should include provisions similar to the provisions in Bill 168 that introduce elements of accountability, enforcement, transparency and oversight.

Ontario’s Ministry of Education’s Response to Bullying

• As the primary institution and a “major socialization force” in the lives of children, schools must play a leadership role in addressing bullying problems.
• While it appears that significant progress has occurred through stronger consequences for perpetrators of bullying, principals still have wide discretion to investigate and take action when allegations of bullying come to their attention.
• There are no mechanisms built into the Education Act to ensure accountability or to review incidents in which no action was taken. Furthermore, there does not appear to be a definition of “bullying” in the Act, nor is cyber-bullying explicitly included. Ultimately, the law is only as good as its implementation.
• While memorandums issued by the Ontario Ministry of Education inform the school boards and school authorities of the Ministry’s new policies. Memorandums are not statutes and can be changed at the Ministry’s discretion; therefore, this definition of bullying could be altered in the future by government bureaucrats.

Holding Schools Accountable

• As a result, their responses to bullying are reactive rather than proactive.
• Educators ought to play a significantly more active role in fostering inclusive school environments by critically assessing what they model to young people in physical school settings and in virtual space.
• Bullying impacts learning in the physical school environment and creates unwelcome physical school environments where equal opportunities to learn are greatly reduced.
• It appears that schools are rarely held liable for student bullying; “nevertheless, they have a professional duty to ensure a safe and supportive learning environment for all students.”
• It can be argued that schools have an additional responsibility to act in loco parentis, or in the place of parents, because they have charge of children.
• In fact, courts have held that schools are required to ensure that they create a school environment that provides equal opportunities to learn without fear of harassment or bullying (of any kind whatsoever).
• Currently, there is no oversight mechanism for school boards in Ontario.
• The Ombudsman's authority, as established by the Ombudsman Act to oversee the delivery of public services, has not been modernized in over 30 years.
• According to the Ombudsman’s Office, Ontario has fallen behind in oversight of non-governmental organizations providing critical public services referred to as the “MUSH” sector, which includes school boards.
• The Ombudsman of Ontario's authority with respect to this sector is the most limited in Canada.
• NDP education critic Rosario Marchese introduced a private member’s bill on November 15, 2010, which aims to give the Ombudsman review powers over school boards, as well as other “MUSH” sector organizations.
• “There are many concerns with education and thousands of kids are falling through the cracks. We need someone who has the power and independence to investigate and resolve complaints.”
• Ontario is the only province where the Ombudsman doesn't oversee school boards.
• However, the Office of the Ombudsman still received 110 complaints in 2009 about issues relating to the education system, including issues such as school violence and inappropriate suspensions and expulsions.
• These complaints could not be investigated because they fell outside the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.
• To ensure accountability of our educational system, oversight of school boards should be part of the Ombudsman’s mandate.


• Schools, however, cannot be expected to address this social problem alone; parents must play a significant role as well.
• In the cyber-bullying context, it is interesting to note that just when children are beginning to conduct more of their social lives online, the number of house rules governing online behaviour starts to drop off.
• Parents are also less likely to spend time supervising their kids online or talking to them about their online activities.
• Parents who are responsible for providing their children with Internet access are not taking responsibility for monitoring their children’s activities online.
• Recent trends suggest that a parent who is aware of their child’s malicious online behaviour may be held partially responsible for their child’s actions.
• Although there are limited legal remedies available to provide redress for victims or punishment for perpetrators of bullying, solutions for encouraging positive interactions can only emerge from an ongoing collaboration and commitment from all stakeholders, including parents, schools, government, and children themselves. All have a role and responsibility in ensuring children’s safety.
• We must avoid labelling children as “victims” or “bullies,” but should instead take a broader perspective on children’s strengths and challenges, not only in terms of their own needs, but also in terms of their important relationships within the family, peer group, school, and broader community.
• Children need consistent messages and responses to bullying across all of these contexts.
• We need “to interrupt and redefine these interactions to move children out of their entrenched roles in a bullying situation.”
• To promote positive relationships, all children involved in bullying incidents—the children who bully, those who are victimized, as well as bystanders—must be included in bullying interventions.
• Regardless of the setting, adults are responsible for creating positive environments that promote children’s ability to create and maintain healthy relationships.
• They are also responsible for minimizing opportunities for negative peer interactions.
• By observing the interpersonal dynamics in children’s lives, adults can construct social experiences in ways that protect and support their developing relationships and minimize the likelihood of bullying and harassment.
• We have to break down systemic barriers and model behaviour that teaches children to be respectful and inclusive, offline and online.
• One need not look too far to see how adults are failing children by modeling negative behaviour—from football and soccer fields where parents yell obscenities and aggressive taunts at referees and players, to Parliament, where politicians openly treat each other with derision.
• Specifically, the shortcomings of the current legislated response to bullying in Ontario, in terms of accountability, transparency, enforceability and oversight, should be addressed and repaired. The manner in which Bill 168 addresses bullying and harassment in the workplace and the recent initiatives in New Jersey and Massachusetts warrant serious consideration because they increase accountability, transparency, enforceability and oversight. The American initiatives are touted as the “gold standard.” Children in Ontario deserve nothing less.