Provincial anti-bullying law gets mixed reviews

A York resident has a problem with the Ontario government’s latest effort to reduce schoolyard bullying.

On Feb.1, Bill 157 took effect in elementary and secondary schools across Ontario. Now teachers, principals and other school staff must report incidents of bullying, harassment and other forms of anti-social behaviour. The emphasis on reporting, however, worries Karen Sebbon of the York Region Anti-Bullying Coalition, She described how her son Daniel endured sustained bully attacks.

“My son was intentionally physically and emotionally harmed for three years to a degree that he cut his skin and when that didn’t work he started to use marijuana on a daily basis,” Sebbon said. “Throughout all this he had to seek professional help outside of the board level. We had to take him to a psychologist. After that he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress. He was suicidal for five months.”

Sebbon said Bill 157 should go further by making services to help support victims obligatory. She’s also concerned about the principal’s discretionary right to expel a student and to decide whether a student’s actions warrant contacting parents and police.

“In our case, the school administrator knew what was going on and he was telling me his hands were tied,” she said. “I believe in the three strikes and you’re out rule.”

She admitted that in bullying cases, the aggressor has issues too and needs help also.

“Take them out of the school instead of just putting them in a separate classroom,” she said, “so they can get the kind of help they need to be respectable citizens.”

Susan Logue, principal of Unionville High School, believes that discretion is a necessary tool for resolving issues and a key to preventing difficulties for a child at home or later in life.

“Discretion doesn’t mean not doing your job,” Logue said. “I may have personal information about the child or their family background and I can take whatever steps are needed to help the child out. It’s in the student’s and family’s interest.”

Stuart Auty of the Canadian Safe School Network finds some encouragement in Bill 157. He endorces the initiative to force staff to deal with problems as they’re happening.

“The fact that there needs to be a response and intervention from the person who witnesses the conflict, act of aggression or negative comments means teachers are expected to intervene and deal with it on the spot as opposed to ignoring it,” Auty said.

At the school level, Logue applauds the law because it makes reporting the bullying part of a staff member’s job description.

“Now, it’s considered a duty to report the same day and it’s not just teachers but caretakers, secretaries and educational assistants,” Logue said.”

Daniel Sebbon beat the odds by graduating. In the coming months as school administrators begin implementing Bill 157, other bullied students can only hope the extra eyes and hears in the hallways offer enough change to make a real difference in their lives.