Last fall, Jamie Hubley of Ottawa committed suicide after years of being bullied at school.
His death was the latest in a series of suicides of high school students bullied for being gay.
No parents want this kind of tragedy to strike their child.
This month at Queen’s Park we’re debating bills brought forward by the government and the official Opposition to deal with the issue.
The government bill provides for the setting up of school clubs to address bullying that students experience from racism, sexism, disability or gender orientation. The Opposition bill requires the government to track action to prevent bullying and requires the government to step in when action is not being taken.
The debate gets pretty heated, a lot is at stake. No one ever talks about the safety of our children without touching on very fundamental values.
The setting up of school clubs for bullied groups, in particular for gay youth, has become the most visible and contentious issue. Gay-straight alliances have been shown to reduce vulnerability of youth and improve academic performance. Breaking isolation has a powerful impact on the mood of students and their ability to learn.
In the course of this debate it is clear this is also true for disabled students who are subjected to bullying more commonly than the non-disabled.
On the Bloorview Kids Rehab website, there is a story posted about a child dealing with bullying and disabilities.
“When her daughter Sequoiah graduated from Bloorview’s primary school to a regular grade 2 class in Burlington, Kerene Wallace was shocked to learn that Sequoiah was being bullied.
“ ‘I expected that this might happen in the older grades, but these children were in grades 1 and 2,’ ” Kerene says.
“Sequoiah was singled out because of her unusual walking gait, chronically teased on the playground, and made to hand over her snack every day. ‘She was totally overwhelmed.’ ”
Building a network of friends is strongly recommended as a way of reducing the bullying of the disabled in school.
It is clear from the reading that I did that there is a range of bullying going on. At one end we have what I’d call textbook bullying that involves individual students who will go after anyone they think they can bully for whatever reason. The other I call group bullying is the bullying that whole groups of students take part in against someone who is seen as different. And let’s face it, they can overlap, but it helps to keep this in mind when we are responding to bullying.
The first kind requires that we take action when individual students are attacking others. That means monitoring, counselling and when necessary, suspensions.
The second means changing the culture in our schools so no one is bullied just because of who they are.
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