Public Schools Branch investigating reports of bullying at East Wiltshire School

Prince Edward Island’s Public School’s Branch says stories have been brought forward about bullying during a day which was supposed to be dedicated to inclusion this past week.

Concerns raised about the actions of some students on a day dedicated to inclusion

P.E.I.'s Public School's Branch says it is aware of concerns about bullying this past week at East Wiltshire School during a day dedicated to inclusion. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

P.E.I.'s Public School's Branch says it is aware of concerns about bullying this past week at East Wiltshire School in Cornwall during a day dedicated to inclusion.

Laine Brehaut is one of many parents who have posted online and written letters to the Public School Branch about what their kids experienced.

Brehaut's child goes to the school and identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community. She said her child was excited when Pride Day was planned, but disappointed by the actions of some of the kids at school.

According to Brehaut, some students, who dressed in black, harassed classmates, asking them if they supported members of the LGBTQ community. If they did, those students were bullied, Brehaut said.

"They came home at the end of the day feeling unsafe and disappointed," Brehaut said of her own child.

Sharon Duncan's daughter is an ally of the LGBTQ community. Duncan said her daughter came home after school and told her some of her friends were pressured into changing out of multi-coloured clothes by other students.

"She saw girls crying," Duncan said. "She overheard other friends saying they didn't feel comfortable for the next Pride Day, or the next day of support, to even wear Pride clothes and Pride colours."

Neither Duncan nor Brehaut said they are surprised this has been happening at the school. Their kids have talked to them about bullying in the past.

Brehaut said schools can better address this type of bullying. There is an inclusion policy, but Brehaut thinks it's not used or referenced often.

"That inclusion policy… has been available online and part of their mandate for a very long time, but in the eight years that my children have been attending school there has been very little support for this community. More needs to be done."

Brehaut said she wants administration and staff at the school to send a clear message about why it's wrong to judge those who are part of or support the LGBTQ community.

Norbert Carpenter is the director of the Public Schools Branch. (CBC)

Norbert Carpenter, the director of the Public School Branch, said the Pride event was organized by the student council and endorsed by the school administration.

"Unfortunately, we are receiving accounts of behaviour, very inappropriate behaviour, of students who seem to have organized themselves via social media.

"We do think the onus is on us to educate and learn from this event."

The events at East Wiltshire are being investigated and those who engaged in harmful activities will be dealt with appropriately, he said.

The policy around safe and caring learning environments is wide in scope, but it does outline responsibility for students and staff, said Carpenter.

"It speaks to discipline in the policy and this is the policy we will be using," he said. "We're not sure if hard consequences, like sending people home for an extended period of time, would be the answer in this case."

Carpenter said he wants to make sure all students feel safe and other actions will be taken if educating those who have done wrong doesn't work.

Dave Stewart is an advocate for LGBTQ rights. He said Pride flags at East Wiltshire were ripped down by some students. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Dave Stewart, an advocate for LGBTQ rights, said the problem "is the damage this has done to any of the queer students at the school."

Stewart didn't talk about being gay when he was growing up and going to school on P.E.I. He said he hid it.

"It makes me really angry that I am feeling that again. When I read the post … it was like, bam, I was right back in school trying to be invisible, and you know no one wants to be invisible."

If children feel they don't have a place in school, they might end up unwelcome in the province where they live, he said.

Carpenter said staff did tell students that participation in Pride Day was not mandatory, but respecting others taking part in the event was.

Counsellors will be made available at the school on Monday to support students who feel they have been negatively impacted, Carpenter said.

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With files from Laura Meader