Students who ride the school bus with the Saskatchewan boy whose father has raised concerns about his son being bullied say they have not seen any evidence to support his claim.
"We're standing up for ourselves and our bus driver and our school division," Jessica Crawford, a Grade 10 student at Assiniboia Composite High School, told CBC News Wednesday. "I have enough common sense to not sit and watch a five-year-old boy be bullied on the school bus."
Many students told CBC News they have been having a hard time concentrating on their studies ever since Robert Coomber went public with allegations that his five-year-old son, Ryan, was being bullied on the school bus.
The bus transports roughly 20 students to three different schools in Assiniboia, about 150 kilometres southwest of Regina.
Ryan used to take the bus from his home in Willow Bunch, Sask., to his junior kindergarten in Assiniboia, about 40 kilometres away, but stopped taking it earlier this month because of bullying and taunting that has at times been physical, his father told CBC News Monday.
Coomber said older children have taunted and even hit Ryan, who lost part of his left leg in a lawnmower accident two years ago and has a prosthetic limb that his father says has made him a target.
Coomber said he tried to resolve the bullying problem by talking to other parents, the bus driver and the Prairie South School Division responsible for his son's school — all without success.
The media coverage of the bullying allegations and resulting comments from the public on some news websites have upset some of the older students.
"It's hurtful to go on the internet and see all these comments," Crawford, 15, added. "Some people even refer to us as criminals. [But] they're getting a very one-sided story."
Father stands by allegations
News about the alleged bullying has been widely reported, and some students have been speaking out on provincial talk-radio programs.
"It's very frustrating," said Kendra Montgomery, a Grade 12 student at Assiniboia Composite High School. "I can't believe how blown out of proportion this has become."
According to the older students, Ryan has been disruptive on the school bus and does not listen when told to settle down.
"We tell him to sit down and be quiet," Crawford said. "We'll raise our voices and get a little frustrated, but we've never hit him."
The students said the father's story about his son being punched might have been a misinterpretation of an incident in which a youth accidentally elbowed Ryan in the face. The students said the youth immediately apologized.
When contacted on Wednesday, Coomber told CBC News he stands by what he has said.
He said officials from the school board have contacted him since the initial story ran and want to meet on the weekend to discuss his allegations.