A couple of days ago, I posted a link to a Quebec Gov website consultation on bullying. In response to a comment suggesting that our schools had the power and tools they need and that this was perhaps simply a distraction. I expanded greatly on why I think this is worth responding to and I spoke to some of the problems we face in dealing with the issue.
Here is my reply:
See, there’s more to it than just “the power and the tools”. Frankly, I am not at all sure that they have the tools either. Sure, we all know that we need to address bullying when we see it. And even the definition of bullying is fairly clear. But the “always on” piece of it that we have today is not something a school is equipped to handle.
For that student who arrives at home to find 50 messages posted on whatever website, driving the point home that they are in fact worthless. For that student who’s had a compromising picture taken and now finds it spread to friends and foes and everybody else. Neither of these things have occurred while in school. But the school, with funds cut year after year, the school is supposed to have the resources to be able to handle what is in fact a social problem that extends well beyond its walls. We demand more from our schools. And we give them less.
Move to the governance side of things. Two major problems in reporting right now. An act of bullying that results in “a complaint” that is reported to the Principal of a given school becomes an individual issue that is to be reported to the Director General of the school board, along with a summary report on the incident and the follow-up measures taken.
So – what is a complaint? When does something become a complaint? How is a complaint defined from one school to another? How is a complaint defined from one school board to another?
As parents, you and I will say that a complaint is the natural result of a bullying incident being recognized and dealt with within the school. How many of these incidents do you think happen in a school in a given week? StopaBully.ca reports that 64 percent of kids have been bullied at school. 13 percent report being bullied once or more times in a given week.
So – we have 13,500 students in our school board. Let’s go with just the kids being bullied weekly. That’s 1755 complaints that must be summarized, reported along with follow-up measures. And received by the Director General. EVERY WEEK. That’s only 43 incidents per hour based on a 40 hour week. Heck – she’s got more almost 90 seconds to deal with each one, if this is the absolute only thing she deals with bar anything else. Tell me – what in the world is that Director General supposed to do with that?
Now – let’s say school “A” reports that 13% of incidents. School “B” reports 7%. School “C” reports 20% and school “D” reports 3%. Well obviously, school “D” is best. Or maybe it’s definition is a little more narrow than school “C”’s definition.
Bring it a step further along. Look at school boards. How are they reporting? What do we, as a board, do when the other school board in our territory reports 1% bullying. We report 13%. Holy cow! Put our school board in trusteeship, for God’s sake! Something is horribly wrong! Or there are no norms, no clear rules, no clear definitions and no clear directions to move in.
Bullying is a complicated issue. It’s a societal issue. It exists in our schools and well beyond our schools. It is insidious, often goes unrecognized and it deeply damages children – often for their entire lives.
Personally, I am glad that we at least recognize it and we’re trying to do something about it within the Education Act. It’s a step in the right direction. But do I think we have it covered? Not by a long shot. And do I think the Education Act is the only place this needs to be addressed? Not by a long shot. Are there enough resources being applied to the problem? Not by a long shot.
So yes – the Quebec Government is keeping the issue alive. Talking about it. Asking people to think about it, to discuss it, and they are gathering information that will hopefully lead to greater understanding and better ways to recognize, deal with and report on incidents of bullying.
I don’t think that this is a distraction at all. I think it’s something we need to pay attention to. To be involved in. To understand, to talk about and to maintain as a major priority in our society as a whole.
I am quick to point out when Government is wrong. In this case, I’m going to point to this and say that it is a step in the right direction. And every step counts.