POLITICS

Clark looks to B.C. schools to implement $2 million anti-bullying plan

06/01/2012 02:45 EDT | Updated 08/01/2012 05:12 EDT
VICTORIA - British Columbia students who feel they are being bullied will soon be able to report the behaviour anonymously on a new smartphone application being introduced by the provincial government.

Teachers are also being asked to dedicate one professional development day per year to deal with bullying as part of a strategy aimed at reducing the corrosive behaviour, going beyond laws to punish offenders and protect children.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced Friday a $2 million, 10-point strategy to combat bullying and ensure every child feels safe, accepted and respected.

She said the fight against bullying needs more focus on actions rather than laws that punish the offending behaviour, because laws can't weed out the root causes of bullying.

The ERASE program — Expect Respect and A Safe Education — goes beyond proposed amended anti-bullying laws in Ontario and B.C.'s 2007 laws targeting bullying, Clark said.

"We are moving well past that and building in education and training tools for folks in schools and resources for parents to make sure they can deal with it to try and raise the profile of it across the province," said Clark in Surrey where she announced her strategy.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has said he's preparing to amend the province's Accepting School Act to prohibit Catholic Schools from vetoing student gay clubs.

"My advice to Ontario is the legislation sends a message," said Clark. "It says government and society is concerned about this, but laws do not on their own stop bullying, and we have to do more."

She said her strategy, which is set to be introduced in B.C. schools next September, will lead the country in addressing bullying, with a five-year training program for teachers and community workers that helps identify and address bullying.

The plan also includes dedicated safe-school co-ordinators in every school district, stronger codes of conduct for schools and provincial guidelines for threat assessments.

Clark said the program will include a provincial advisory committee with representatives from police, schools and social agencies. She said the program will ensure teachers receive anti-bullying and threat-assessment training.

"What educators need are the tools to be able to deal with conflicts in an appropriate way," Clark said.

"They need tools to recognize when bullying is happening and administrators need to know that creating a positive school culture is part of their everyday jobs."

Clark said the anti-bullying program will be a major initiative in her government's education agenda, but her announcement provided few details of its implementation.

She referred questions about what the program means to the B.C. Teachers Federation and its more than 40,000 members to Education Minister George Abbott.

Abbott said the BCTF has been advised about the program, but he couldn't speak for the union.

Jim Iker, BCTF's first vice president, said teachers have been calling on the government to address issues surrounding bullying, homophobia and racism in classrooms for years.

"We welcome any kind of additional resources to help us do our work in classes," he said. "We need to see the resources in place."

Iker said over the past decade schools have lost 1,400 counsellors and teaching aides, widely considered the frontline people in handling bullying issues.

He said the government should consider scheduling an extra professional development day for teachers if they want to work on anti-bullying strategies. Iker said schools have the option of scheduling one of the six pro-D days for their own purposes.

Abbott, who attended the program announcement with Clark, said the government will deliver specialized training to more than 15,000 educators and community partners over the next five years.

He said the program strives to ensure consistent policies and procedures are in place that help educators and other partners take action to address bullying and harmful behaviours.

Clark said bullying takes many forms and impacts the lives of many children, including those discovering their sexual identities.

"Homophobic bullying is unacceptable and will not be tolerated," she said. "No bullying is acceptable. But we do know though those kids are more likely to be bullied. They are more likely to commit suicide than other kids in school."

British Columbia has endured several tragic bullying incidents involving young people.

They include: the suicide of 14-year-old Hamed Nastoh of Surrey in 2000; the bullying-related deaths of Reena Virk of Victoria in 1997 and Dawn Marie Welsey of Mission in 2000.

Clark said she's been a passionate anti-bullying advocate and considers ensuring the safety and respect of children one of her top political goals.

Statistics reveal about one in 10 children have bullied others and as many as 25 per cent of children in Grades 4 to 6 have been bullied.

A 2004 study published in the medical Journal of Pediatrics found that about one in seven Canadian children aged 11 to 16 are victims of bullying.

Studies have found bullying occurs once every seven minutes on the playground and once every 25 minutes in the classroom.