Mother defends bullied students
A Merritt mother is calling for area parents and their kids to speak up to school officials about bullying incidents.
The woman, who didn’t want to be named because it might identify her daughter, said her child was jumped from behind in a hallway at Merritt Secondary School. She said the alleged bully pushed her daughter’s friend, at which point her daughter spoke up to defend the other girl.
The woman said that while her daughter was walking away, the girl pulled her hair and began punching her.
The woman said she went to MSS immediately after she heard about the incident through a text message from her daughter, and the school suspended the girl for five days.
“The way they handled it when I went in there was appropriate,” the woman said. “They gave her a five-day suspension right away. I was happy with the outcome, but why did it take that long to get to that with all the kids saying they are bullied by her?”
MSS Principal Bill Lawrence said the biggest challenge the school faces in cracking down on bullying is getting students to speak out.
“When we get the information that something’s happening, we act on it,” Lawrence said. “We always act on it. The big struggle for us is getting the information. There’s this whole idea there might be retribution.”
Though the alleged bully is suspended, the woman said her daughter is nervous about entering school alone — partially because the girl’s sister is also at MSS.
Brent Bowden, a counsellor at MSS, said it’s important for students to trust an adult at school so they feel comfortable going to them about the issue.
“I think there’s always a risk students take in coming to see us, in their minds, because they’re not sure their anonymity is going to be preserved,” Bowden said.
At MSS, students can report incidents of bullying to any adult at the school, including two counsellors, four First Nations support workers and teachers. In turn, if adults at the school see or hear of bullying, they can talk to students about it.
Beyond that, Lawrence said the school is working on a bullying awareness and education campaign.
“We probably need to do a better job of some education around what is actually bullying, and what is conflict,” he said. “Bullying has this power differential where one person is trying to dominate the other, whereas conflict isn’t necessarily bullying.”
Still, without initial information, Bowden said the school can only do so much.
“If we don’t know about it then it’s really difficult to do anything about it,” he said.
One of the complicating factors in dealing with bullying is that a portion of the bullying doesn’t take place on school grounds.
“A lot of our time is being taken up with things that are not even happening here,” Lawrence said. “It’s on Facebook at night or texting on the weekend, but it affects the students’ ability to feel safe in school.
“It winds up on our plate and we deal with it.”
The mother, who said the school acted appropriately in this case, said it’s up to community members to take a stand against bullying now.
“Are we going to wait for another Amanda Todd?” she said.
Todd, a Port Coquitlam teenager, committed suicide earlier this month after years of bullying at school and online.
Todd’s death captured media attention across the country, something Lawrence suspects has parents more aware of bullying.
“I’m happy that parents are vigilant around [bullying],” Lawrence said, “and that kids do come and talk.”