PEI

LGBTQ community, youth advocate welcome report on bullying at East Wiltshire School

LGBTQ and youth advocates say a new report digging into homophobic bullying at East Wiltshire School in Cornwall is a good first step, but that more is needed to address harassment and discrimination in the province's schools.

MLAs looking to hear from public about harassment and discrimination at P.E.I. schools

Seven students were suspended after homophobic bullying during a Pride event at East Wiltshire. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

LGBTQ and youth advocates say a new report digging into homophobic bullying at East Wiltshire School in Cornwall is a good first step, but more is needed to address harassment and discrimination in the province's schools.

Pride P.E.I. chair John Kimmel welcomed the recommendations made by independent diversity and inclusion consultant Evelyn Bradley, which were released to the public on Thursday. But he says there's still a lot more to be done, particularly when it comes to ensuring students have access to appropriate mental health resources.

"I don't think it goes far enough. But I think it's an excellent way to continue this conversation and bring an opportunity for the entire community to grow out of the experience that happened during Spirit Week and that Pride Week incident," he said.

P.E.I.'s Public Schools Branch commissioned the report after parents complained that their children had been bullied during a Pride Day event at the school by students wearing black.

It found staff had been supportive of the bullied students and that the school suspended seven students. But it also pointed out that students were still targets of harassment.

Some of the report's recommendations include the developing of a progressive disciplinary framework addressing inequity issues, stronger partnerships between school and community organizations, and more training opportunities becoming available to staff.

A systemic issue

But the events at East Wiltshire are reflective of a broader, "pervasive" problem, according to P.E.I.'s child and youth advocate Marvin Bernstein.

"The recommendations are solid as far as they go," he said. "I say that in the context that there are larger systemic issues. This is one school, one report in relation to one form of discrimination: homophobia and transphobia."

Bernstein said some things stood out in the report, such as the fact that only 60 per cent of staff participated in Pride Day activities, or that some of the students dressed in black were coached by their parents.

We can't tolerate that kind of behaviour anywhere,​​​​​​.— John Kimmel, Pride P.E.I.

"How do we get at the larger societal problem in terms of addressing this form of discrimination and the imparting of the sense that it's OK to engage in this behaviour by parents and caregivers?" he said. 

"If we really want to drill down and get to the source of the problem, we have to understand what is happening with families, what's happening at home, what are those conversations that are taking place between students and parents." 

"The organized hate, and that it may have been parent-led, requires further investigation," said Laine Brehaut, the parent who originally brought the issue to light, in a statement.

'Hate is hate'

Bernstein said the school's decision to suspend the offending students isn't an appropriate solution to the problem by itself.

P.E.I. is a loving place that I've come to fall in love with myself, but hate is hate.— John Kimmel, Pride P.E.I.

"There's a need for education, youth engagement, restorative justice in terms of helping those students who are victimized to heal, to feel more empowered, and for those offending students to be more empathetic, to understand the impact of their actions."

The provincial legislature's standing committee on education is currently delving into the issue of harassment and discrimination in P.E.I. schools. They're looking to hear from students, teachers, parents and anyone concerned about the matter by Sept. 10. 

Kimmel said a lot of tough conversations between stakeholders and policymakers still need to take place.

"We can't tolerate that kind of behaviour anywhere," Kimmel said. "School is a place not only to feel safe, but to grow together in love and seeing that comment about the student whose parent told them to wear black was just infuriating.

"P.E.I. is a loving place that I've come to fall in love with myself, but hate is hate." 

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