Bullied Saint John boy given full-time attendant
Mother says school-appointed monitor has made matters worse for her son
By Rachel Cave, CBC News
Posted: Apr 16, 2012 6:25 AM AT
Last Updated: Apr 16, 2012 10:31 AM AT
A 12-year-old boy who says he's been bullied because he's gay and overweight, lost three months of school and is now spending his time being watched by a full-time attendant, paid by the school district.
Dominic's family says L'École Samuel-de-Champlain in Saint John is sending the wrong message.
Dominic's parents say it looks like the school is making Dominic appear to be a trouble-maker, while they say, his real abusers are getting unexpected satisfaction from making him suffer more.
Dominic's parents say their son has been targeted for years because he is flamboyantly different.
'They call me big, fat gay boy and when I'm walking by they say, "Watch out, the ground is trembling." It's just the truth in the end. But still, to be called fat in a mean way, hurts a lot.'— Dominic, 12
They say most of the abuse is verbal but he's also been kicked, punched and slapped. He says he was harassed on the swings when kids threw three handfuls of gravel rocks at him.
"They call me big, fat gay boy and when I'm walking by they say, 'Watch out, the ground is trembling,'" says Dominic who admits he's overweight.
"It's just the truth in the end. But still, to be called fat in a mean way, hurts a lot."
CBC News has opted to only use the first names of Dominic and his family.
Andree, Dominic’s mother, says the situation is causing pain for everyone in the family, including the boy’s father, grandmother and little sister.
Dominic’s sister still rides the school bus but Dominic doesn't use the bus anymore.
He says he was so nervous about returning to school in September, he vomited on the bus and the kids won't let him forget it.
Andree says Dominic’s sister doesn't eat properly because she's afraid of gaining weight and being ridiculed.
His mother says money is also tight in the household since she took a leave from work in November.
Mother says bullies have 'bragging rights'
On Nov. 14, 2011, the family says their difficult situation turned insufferable.
Dominic says on that day he was separated from his classmates while his fellow Grade 7 students were asked to engage in a writing exercise about the recent "schoolyard drama.”
Andree says she would later learn that three of those papers contained allegations against Dominic, accusing him of inappropriate sexual touching.
'Had they brought him back within the first couple of weeks, it would have shown the students that what they were saying was hearsay and we're going to move on. By making him be out for so long, it has allowed them to win. Now they have bragging rights.'— Andree, the boy's mother
Andree says she asked the police to get involved.
The Department of Social Development was involved and Dominic's family hired lawyers.
Andree says, after a couple of weeks, the matter was dismissed as "kid stuff." She says no charges were laid.
His mother says she had hoped Dominic would return to school immediately. Instead, she says he spent about three months unable to attend, tutored part-time at the provincial government's expense.
Andree says that decision effectively punished her son, while the bullies got to gloat about the damage they'd inflicted.
"Had they brought him back within the first couple of weeks, it would have shown the students that what they were saying was hearsay and we're going to move on,” she said.
“By making him be out for so long, it has allowed them to win. Now they have bragging rights."
Andree says Dominic returned to school part-time on Feb. 13 and was back in classes, full-time, after the March Break.
She says upon his return, Dominic was supposed to have an opportunity to address his fellow students and express himself about all that had happened. Andree says that never happened.
As part of Dom's reintegration, the family asked that he get an attendant.
Andree says she was hoping a monitor might provide her son some protection. She says the school suggested an attendant would be able to guide Dominic in stressful or threatening situations.
Now, Andree said she believes that plan has misfired. She says her son appears to be the one with the warden.
"The school is trying to make him look like he's crazy. One recommendation given to us was to have him admitted to the Pierre Caissie Centre, a youth facility for children with psychiatric issues. My son doesn't have psychiatric issues. How can professionals who have never met my son, never evaluated my son, be able to recommend him for such a program," says Andree.
Andree says Dominic has been to counsellors, social workers and a pediatric psychiatrist who diagnosed him with clinical depression related to too many years of bullying.
"Dominic can have a bit of a potty mouth. He can be vulgar. He's a bit defensive," says Andree.
"He's developed that. But you tell me one child who wouldn't develop anything like that, having been bullied for so many years."
School provides safe environment, principal says
Lise Drisdelle-Cormier, the principal of L'École Samuel-de-Champlain, says the province's privacy act prevents her from discussing any particular case.
She did say the school has an obligation to provide a safe and positive learning environment for everyone.
She says that could possibly explain why students who say they are victims of bullying might themselves sent home with a tutor or followed by an attendant.
"Sometimes it's the best for health, mental health and safety issues, sometimes that person is asked to stay home with a tutor. Sometimes we need time to prepare a plan and for that plan to be implemented," says Drisdelle-Cormier.
"Every situation is unique in the sense that we have details we need to address."
Drisdelle-Cormier says the school has a wellness committee to encourage a positive outlook on life and to help teach students coping techniques such as meditative breathing.
She says the school also provides a quiet room where students can go if they need a time-out to get their emotions under control.
She says there is also a gay-straight alliance that meets every week and gives presentations on inclusion.
"We're here to help you become the better you that you can be," says Drisdelle-Cormier.
When negative behaviour escalates, Drisdelle-Cormier says different levels of intervention do become necessary.
Family would like an apology from the school
The school district may get involved. And in rare cases, the file is sent to the province's complex committee, where government agents consult from the departments of health, education, social development and public safety
Some cases also involve New Brunswick's youth advocate, whose office also cited privacy laws and declined to provide specific, identifying comment for this story.
Dominic's mother says her family has been through all these interventions and she fears her son has now accumulated a long and damning file that will haunt him wherever he goes.
"I want all that information gone," says Andree.
'I think people have to start standing up to bullying. A lot of people won't say anything about it. That was my problem. I kept it in. It made me really depressed. But if you tell people about it, it relieves so much stress.'— Dominic
"If I ever decide to put him somewhere else, I don't want that file to follow him. It's like he has a criminal record for being crazy and he's not."
Dominic's parents say it's time to lose the attendant.
"I don't really like it because I'm losing a lot of friends because she's there," says Dominic.
"She has to know whatever anybody tells me or whatever I say. I can't keep anything from her."
Andree says she'd like to share her experience with other families who are hurting.
"I'd love to start a support group for parents and talk about what to do, who to call. So many people have questions and they're lost."
Dominic says one positive change in his life was coming out to his family. He says he had that conversation with his parents five months ago and when his mother and father showed total acceptance.
"I think people have to start standing up to bullying. A lot of people won't say anything about it. That was my problem. I kept it in. It made me really depressed. But if you tell people about it, it relieves so much stress," he says.
Dominic's family says they hope that by telling their story, they'll draw more attention to a social issue that's all too common.
They say it would also be nice if it prompts the school to issue an apology.
Bullying in N.B. schools
There have been several cases of bullying reported in New Brunswick schools recently.
A mother came forward recently to tell her daughter's story about how she was bullied at Fredericton High School several years ago.
The bullying became so bad that she hired a bodyguard for her daughter.
A teen at Leo Hayes High School, which is also in Fredericton, was pulled from the school because he was being bullied by another student.
As well, an Oromocto mother said her seven-year-old daughter received a death threat from a middle school student while on the school bus.
Education Minister Jody Carr has promised stronger anti-bullying laws will be introduced in the province.
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