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New strategy takes aim at bullies

A new anti-bullying strategy for B.C. schools should compliment a well-regarded online reporting system created by a local teacher.

Premier Christy Clark recently unveiled the new 10-point strategy, which will include a smartphone app for reporting bullies, as well as more training for teachers and community partners, and dedicated safe-school co-ordinators in every district.

The $2 million Expect Respect And a Safe Education (ERASE Bullying) program is expected to roll out for the 2012-13 school year.

“One of the things that I learned over the years (when) I spoke with experts from around the world on this issue, is that you can’t make a law that gets rid of bullying,” Clark told reporters.

“We already have really good legislation in British Columbia as a framework, but ultimately it’s the other things that need to happen around that that make the difference, and educators know that.”

Clark said those things include new training for teachers and new priorities for administrators.

“My experience with teachers has been that they feel really passionately and want to do something about (bullying). But for many of them they don’t necessarily know what to look for and how to recognize what bullying looks like,” she said.

And “administrators need to know that this is a priority, creating a positive school culture is a priority as part of their jobs every day.”

Trevor Knowlton, who created www.stopabully.ca in 2009 to allow parents, students and others to anonymously report bullies, called ERASE a step in the right direction.

“At Stop A Bully, we believe that making it easier for students to report bullying is critical and it is important to have the government recognize this as well,” the Summerland teacher said via email.

He said his group also considered a smartphone app, but decided against it because not all kids, particularly those in elementary school, have access to the devices, and those who don’t will be excluded from that service.

That means the need for Stop A Bully hasn’t disappeared, because it’s available on any computer with an Internet connection and receives reports from across Canada.

Knowlton, who in April presented to a Senate committee that’s studying cyberbullying, said the B.C. Education Ministry is aware of his work and “we would be happy to help as they look to implement these new services.”

Teachers are also being asked to help out by devoting one of their six annual professional-development days to anti-bullying training.

Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union president Kevin Epp said the ministry already dictates the topic for one of those days, so teachers’ permission to focus on bullying wouldn’t really be required. But educators probably wouldn’t appreciate having another day wrested from their control.

“Most teachers select topics that they know are going to be relevant to their development as a teacher and to help their individual kids,” he explained.

“It’s not that teachers don’t think anti-bullying is a worthy cause... (but) that loss of professional decision-making, that would be upsetting.”

Epp said teachers can already recognize bullying that takes place in front of them, but a long-term plan to curb the unwanted behaviour also requires better buy-in from parents and the community, stronger measures to deal with serial bullies, and more programs that develop empathetic kids.

The union leader added that the premier’s anti-bullying focus is “a tad ironic,” given the heavy-handed manner with which the government has dealt with teachers during the ongoing labour dispute.

 

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