An Ontario school board has been hit with four lawsuits totalling $35-million from a group of families who claim their children were repeatedly bullied by teachers and students at the schools.
The parents allege their children, who are now between seven and 16 years old, were verbally and physically abused by the defendants. The repeated, sporadic incidents allegedly occurred until 2005.
“The allegations are broad and different from lawsuit to lawsuit,” Sandra Zisckind, a Toronto lawyer representing all the plaintiffs, said yesterday. “They range from teachers bullying students to a sexual assault of one child to another.”
The statements of claim were filed on Aug. 4 against five teachers, three principals, two students, their parents and one vice-principal from the Bluewater District School Board in Owen Sound, 150 kilometres northwest of Toronto.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
Ms. Zisckind, who was approached about eight months ago, said the parents share frustration with how school officials handled their complaints.
“These aren’t people dreaming up problems for a cash grab,” she said. “They just want someone to listen to them.”
Parent Joe Grieco said he had no choice but to seek court action after his daughter was exposed to “psychological abuse” by a teacher.
His daughter would scream and refuse to go to class, he said.
“My daughter got so depressed that she even said she didn’t want to live, that she wanted to kill herself,” said Mr. Grieco. “She’s doing better now but it changed her personality.”
Most of the children are now attending schools in a separate school board.
In the statements of claim, the parents allege their children suffered a variety of side-effects from the bullying, including post-traumatic stress disorder, wetting the bed, anxiety, depression and self-esteem issues.
“We have to take away the idea that bullying is something that occurs, that it’s a rite of passage. Some children can deal with and go on, others who are vulnerable can’t handle it,” said Ms. Zisckind.
“We have anti-bullying programs and legislation educators can rely on now rather than just say ‘buck up and move on.’ That’s not a solution anymore.”
A spokeswoman with the Bluewater District School Board declined to comment.