The schoolyard bully, like everything in education, has been modernized.
She’s 13, with long bangs and a posse, real and digital. Is it any wonder she can make a mockery of zero-tolerance policies and the bestintended protective strategies, of which there are many, inside the school system and out?
An e-mail arrived from a mother with a daughter, a victim, in Grade 8. It is a harrowing tale, probably more common than we think.
It began, apparently, as a minor spat, a slight that only adolescence could magnify by breaking a group of former friends into two camps, one hostile to the other.
Here’s how bad it got, in Mom’s own words:
“Some of the effects on my daughter are as follows:
She spends lunch time in a cubicle in the washroom (she doesn’t eat her lunch).
She often has diarrhea in the morning and doesn’t go to school.
She vomits in the morning and doesn’t go to school.
I get a call from the school mid-morning to pick her up because she is feeling sick.
She is generally anxious about school.
“She has become withdrawn and depressed.
“She usually participates in the school talent show but didn’t this year, because the bully told her partner to pull out.
“She sleeps with me most nights.” We’ve chosen not to identify the woman, or the school, in order to protect the identity of the child. But rest assured, Mom is not a flake. She is a mid-level public servant and her husband is a lawyer. And, frankly, they’re fed up.
They’ve made plans to transfer their daughter to another school, in another board, for September, though it’s cross-town and the change will no doubt come with its own growing pains.
A second parent, also the mother of a victim, confirmed she’s making similar plans. “She’s excluded and branded,” said the mother of her child, adding of the school authorities: “I don’t think they know how to handle it.”
The parents report there have been meetings with the principal and vice-principal, who have taken steps to deal with the bullies, but there has been no happy resolution.
Matters boiled over this spring when a group of 10 or so girls surrounded a table of three classmates (the targets) during the lunch-hour, intimidating them with verbal taunts. This was followed by a nasty Facebook post. The cafeteria incident was caught on video, which the school used to trigger a disciplinary process.
But it didn’t change some hard facts: the girls were still in the same classes, the same cafeteria, the same hallways. This led to the silent, more insidious form of bullying: shunning, the kind of social exclusion that is much harder to police, but likely as hurtful.
Officially, bullying is taken very seriously by school boards; of policies, they have chapter and verse, including the recent inclusion, provincewide, of bullying as a suspendable offence. But do they actually work?
The parent who contacted the Citizen pointed out the perverse outcome that uproots the victims and leaves the bully where she is.
“Nothing has changed and now my husband and I must take our child out of this school and send her to another one. Her friend’s parents are doing the same because they cannot bear to see their child deteriorate any further. This simply isn’t fair.”