The New Brunswick government has introduced some long-awaited initiatives to crack down on bullying in schools across the province. They include legislative amendments, the hiring of two anti-bullying co-ordinators and the creation of an anti-bullying week.
And more changes will be coming, said Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Jody Carr.
"Solving the problem of bullying requires a multi-faceted solution where everyone works together," he said.
'Of course, it's not the laws that change behaviour, it's people who change behaviour. So we need to work with kids in schools.' —Heather Smith, President of NB Teachers' Association
The amendments to the Education Act place a greater emphasis on prevention, reporting, investigating and taking action when bullying occurs, said Carr.
They also reach beyond the school grounds. Under the amendments, bullying is defined as a serious misconduct, which include incidents that happen outside of school hours and off school property to the extent they affect the school climate, he said.
Heather Smith, president of the New Brunswick Teachers' Association, said defining the differences between bullying and conflict is important.
"I think the key here is to define what bullying is and I think that's going to help go a long way in determining what exactly needs to get reported to a superintendent," Smith said.
Principals would be mandated to report all incidences of bullying to the superintendent. District education councils and the minister would also be mandated to report annually, said Carr.
Smith said she hopes the teachers' association is involved in making the decision on defining bullying.
"If it's a recommendation of our committee, we have teachers and government representatives and private sector groups sitting around that table, so hopefully it will come from us because we've done a lot of consultation in terms of 'what is bullying,'" she said. "If we can come to a common definition of what it is and again what it isn’t, I think that'll go a long way in terms of how we’re going to report it."
Smith said there is still a lot of work to be done.
"We've not yet finished our work and I think it is those pieces that are in support of the legislature piece that we heard today that will make the difference, because, of course, it's not the laws that change behaviour, it's people who change behaviour. So we need to work with kids in schools," she said.
"This legislation will increase the shared responsibility at all levels of the school system," Carr said. "It would also mean schools will have a consistent approach for how to handle bullying."
Carr noted the amendments establish clearly defined discipline and intervention protocols and enhance the roles and responsibilities for principals, educators, parents, students and parent school support committees.
Among the changes, principals will be obligated to develop and implement a school-based positive learning and working environment plan in collaboration with students, teachers and parent school support committees.
In addition to the legislative amendments, the department will hire two anti-bullying co-ordinators, one for the anglophone sector and one for the francophone sector.
They will oversee bullying prevention and awareness at schools and monitor the new discipline and intervention protocols, he said.
The department will also create an annual Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week.
All of the changes are based on feedback from the Ministerial Advisory Committee on a Positive Learning and Working Environment, said Carr.
Once the committee submits its final recommendations, the department will announce further actions, he said. It's unclear when that will be.
"By working with school districts, schools, principals, educators, students, parents and communities on a multi-phased approach to create safe and healthy learning and working environments, Mr. Speaker, this government will continue working with our partners to eliminate bullying and to create environments that are positive, caring and respectful," Carr said.
Numerous bullying cases
Earlier this year, following several high-profile cases of bullying, Carr had promised to introduce legislation by the spring.
In one case, a teenaged boy was facing charges after lighting a girl’s hair on fire in Saint John.
A teenager in Fredericton was pulled from school by his parents after he was subjected to months of degrading harassment by another student.
And a Fredericton mother has come forward to describe how, three years ago, she hired a bodyguard to protect her daughter, who was being bullied at Fredericton High School.
Carr had said the reforms would include consequences for bullies, similar to Quebec law. But he did not offer any specifics on Wednesday.
Anti-bullying advocates have been calling for tough, new measures for more than a year.