Karpuk: Bullying remains a top concern

Bullying has received its share of society's focus in the past year. It continues to be a top concern that I, as a school trustee, hear about from parents.

PREVNet - a national anti-bullying group of 66 Canadian research scientists and 52 youth organizations - suggests that because children spend a majority of their time at school, most instances of childhood bullying happen at school. So what are schools in our district doing about it?

Within School District 73, there are more than 80 active programs and policies in place to support safe, positive environments, some at individual schools and others at the district-wide level. Helping to oversee, manage and improve these initiatives is the district's Positive School Culture and Workplace Committee (PSWCC), which focuses on safety and caring at schools.

One program families may be familiar with is Positive Behaviour Intervention Support (PBIS) focused on teaching appropriate behaviour, encouraging social responsibility and addressing bullying when it occurs. It is currently active in about one-third of our schools, and is expected to be in every school by 2014.

Another is Beyond the Hurt, sponsored by the Canadian Red Cross. It's for students Grade 6 to 12, and provides peer-to-peer education strategies to identify, prevent and respond to bullying behaviour and promote safety.

Roots of Empathy brings a volunteer parent and newborn into the classroom once every three weeks for a year.

Students learn from face-to-face interaction with the parent and child to identify their own emotions and reactions and develop empathy and caring for those around them.

Bullying prevention is a high priority within the district and there are mechanisms in place to measure how well the district is doing to prevent bullying, annually. Current Canadian statistics suggest 15 per cent of girls and 20 per cent of boys experience bullying. Our goal is to have less than 10 per cent of students and parents feeling that students are being bullied. The Satisfaction Survey, distributed to students in Grades 4, 7, 10 and 12, indicates that in the past four years we have met that goal for Grades 7, 10 and 12.

When bullying is reported, district policy states "all complaints of shall be investigated with due process" and when substantiated, shall be treated seriously. In no case will such complaints be minimized or trivialized, or the complainants be left to deal with it themselves. In other words, action will be taken whenever bullying is reported.

An additional safety measure at every school is the threat and risk assessment team. If an individual makes a threat or behaves in a dangerous manner that threatens safety of children or staff, a threat assessment is undertaken by a dedicated professional team to determine an appropriate intervention strategy.

The district has a variety of resources about bullying available on its website's "safe and healthy schools" link under "resources".

In an ideal world we wouldn't have to worry about bullying. But it exists and the school district and our schools will continue to focus on prevention and encouraging positive, pro-active behaviour to support safe school environments.

Kathleen Karpuk is vice-chairwoman of the board of trustees.

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