Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, May 7, 2012
Bullying Canada needs to live up to its mandate in how it deals with organizations and institutions.
Bullying is indeed a serious matter, yes; we need more education and awareness. I am in no way trying to belittle the cause, but I am somewhat ashamed of the tactics Bullying Canada chooses to employ in furthering its cause.
I know about bullying intimately. My son was bullied over a six-month period in Grade 7. The situation was solved, but it was a long process. Repairing relationships doesn’t happen overnight. Repairing a school’s reputation doesn’t happen instantly, either. For the last three years, principal Pat Thorne, vice-principal Jen Pauley and their team of teachers and support staff at Woodstock Middle School have worked diligently in trying to turn the school around.
When I moved to the community of Woodstock in 2006, the school’s track record for dealing with bullies wasn’t the greatest. Over time that changed because of strong and loving leadership, a staff that understands the needs of the students, and a group of educators and support staff who work well as a team for the betterment of all students. Does that mean bullying doesn’t happen at the school? Of course not. Bullying happens everywhere, and I am not sure there will ever be a time when it is eradicated completely.
Bullying comes from socio-economic differences, from a lack of empathy and understanding, from greed and pride and sometimes from a lack of education. Bullying also comes from being bullied. It is a multi-faceted problem that cannot be fixed with a phone call, a suspension or even the threat of media.
I know. It took months for my son to admit the seriousness of his own situation. It took days for the team at the school to talk to each of the students involved and to grasp a complete understanding of what was happening, and it took weeks to set up mediation meetings and begin to rectify the problem.
When it comes to dealing with bullies and those who have been bullied, quick fixes don’t work. Suspensions are temporary Band-Aids, moving kids to other classes’ only mask the situation. Bullying is further exacerbated by the fact that every situation is different and every person dealing with that situation is different. No bullying incident is exactly the same as another, which means every solution ends up being unique.
And sometimes an issue can’t be resolved to the satisfaction of everyone involved. People are complex beings.
We live in an age where instant gratification is the name of the game. We want things and we want them now. Bullying is no different. We all want it fixed and fixed yesterday, but as long as the bullying is taking place between human beings, that will never happen. While many of us would love to snap our fingers and instantly deal successfully with a tough situation, myself included, that will never happen. Bullying Canada doesn’t seem to understand this.
Last week the organization took a media swipe at the staff at Woodstock Middle School. They were trying to intervene on behalf of a parent. Bullying Canada issued a news release stating: “We attempted to make contact with both Superintendent John Tingley and School Principal Patricia Thorne but our calls and emails were not returned.”
As a person concerned with bullying in the school system, I was shocked to read this and contacted Pat Thorne and John Tingley directly. They said they checked with their staff and were told no phone messages were received from Bullying Canada, and at no time did either official receive a voicemail message from the organization. They did, however, receive one email.
On Friday, April 27 at 8:22 a.m., Bullying Canada sent a note to both Tingley and Thorne. This was the only contact made, according to Tingley and Thorne. Later that morning, at 11:44 a.m., Bullying Canada issued a news release to the media complaining of inaction by the school and the district. In a later media interview, Bullying Canada spokesperson Rob Frenette expressed his concern that the school was not returning his ‘calls’ and that he was also upset officials would not discuss the situation with him.
How fair is it to widely distribute a media release stating that numerous calls were made when no messages were left? How irresponsible is it to issue a news release accusing someone of not returning calls after waiting only three hours for a response? And how can an anti-bullying group expect such a multi-faceted situation to be fixed within a week?
On the day Bullying Canada issued its news release, the school had been dealing with and working toward resolving the issue for five days. My son’s complex situation took nearly six weeks to rectify.
This is not the first time the actions of Bullying Canada officials have worried me. I’ve watched the news reports where they complain about businesses, corporations and schools. In some instances it seems that if the organization cannot get what it wants, it then threatens media action. It also seems that each time a call is not returned in what the organization feels is a ‘timely fashion,’ Bullying Canada issues a media release.
Rob Frenette issued another news release Saturday, saying it was the family’s decision to issue a media advisory on the fact their concerns were not being addressed. “At no time did anyone from Bullying Canada make the decision to issue the media release,” Frenette stated.
Yet that media advisory was issued under the name of Bullying Canada. How can the organization claim to represent and speak for a family in one breath, but then abdicate responsibility in the next?
Everyone who reads my column knows I am not a malicious person. My family and friends and co-workers know I am as honest as the day is long. People understand my need to help others, that I truly hate bullying, that I love people who do what’s right and not what’s easy, and that I try to see the best in everyone.
I hope you see this column for what it is: Clarification, education and standing up for what I think is right. Organizations that take the moral high ground in their mandate need to take the moral high ground in the execution of that mandate. Bullying Canada needs to take that message to heart in how it deals with this sensitive issue.
Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and a New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, join her Facebook group, My Big Fat Life, or follow her on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE.