Hamilton

To fix bullying, everyone has to know what 'bullying' means, HWDSB trustees say

For some people, bullying looks like not being invited to class birthday parties, while to others, it looks like physical assault. So, if the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) wants to make bullying less prevalent in its schools, it's important for everyone to have the same concept of what the word means.

The board launched the panel after the death of 14-year-old Devan Selvey

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board launched the panel after Devan Selvey, 14, was fatally stabbed outside an east-end high school. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

For some people, bullying looks like not being invited to class birthday parties, while to others, it looks like physical assault. So if the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) wants to make bullying less prevalent in its schools, it's important for everyone to have the same concept of what the word means.

That was the message that came from HWDSB trustees Monday night as they combed through an interim report from the safe schools review panel, a group tasked with identifying how prevalent bullying is and what the board should do about it.

While all the trustees support the work so far, many agreed with Becky Buck, west Mountain trustee. Buck said as the panel gets input from staff and students, everyone needs to have the same idea of what bullying is.

"My daughter will tell you she's being bullied if she has to eat spinach," Buck said.

"Part of me is reserved in trusting that everyone is now working under the same definition." The term, she said, has "become almost a catch-all phrase" for when something negative happens because of someone else.

This graph shows the percentage of HWDSB students who report being bullied or harassed, as well as the percentage who have bullied or harassed others. (HWDSB)

Other trustees agreed. 

"If a student comes in and says 'I'm being bullied,' do we understand what it is?" said Christine Bingham, west Hamilton trustee. "There's a lot more that we need to do, and I really think it has to do with the definition."

The panel was struck after Devan Selvey, 14, was fatally stabbed outside Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School on Oct. 7, 2019. Another 14-year-old is charged with first-degree murder, and an 18-year-old faces assault charges.

Selvey's death sparked community outcry and rallies to discourage school violence and bullying.

The board is spending about $200,000 on the panel, which was supposed to report back by May 31. COVID-19 has delayed that, said Manny Figueiredo, HWDSB director of education.

Of the students who had been bullied, this illustration shows the type of bullying they experienced. (HWDSB)

About 900 people have attended the community consultations so far. But the panel still needs to meet with teachers, school administrators, diverse communities, union leaders and staff members, among others. It will also hold a community meeting in Waterdown. That's not possible during a pandemic, Figueiredo said.

The final report is now due on Dec. 16.

The interim report has a definition of bullying, specifically that it's an "aggressive and typically repeated behaviour" meant to cause harm, fear or distress, social or academic harm, harm to someone's property, or to create "a negative environment at a school for another individual."

Panel member Jean Clinton, a clinical professor in McMaster University's department of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences, said the panel will also learn from students how they define bullying.

This graphic shows how students in Grades 4 to 6 answered the question "During this school year, how often have you been bullied by other students in the following ways?" (HWDSB)
This graphic shows the answers of students in Grades 7 and 8. (HWDSB)

"As words become common parlance, they can lose their definition," she said, "so I think it's going to be very important to have good education of what the differences are."

Cam Galindo, trustee for Stoney Creek, said the definitions of bullying are "fluid," and "shouldn't prevent us from addressing the needs of our communities."

The panel is focusing on four areas of bullying —prevention, intervention, reporting and responding. It plans to launch an online survey this fall.

The interim report says more than 30 per cent of students in Grades 4 to 6 have experienced physical, social or verbal bullying at least once. One quarter of Grade 7 and 8 students also reported physically bullied at least once during the school year. Thirty per cent of that group also said they were socially bullied, and 32 per cent were verbally bullied. 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She often tweets about Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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