School District 57's efforts to target bullying with its information campaigns are missing their mark and teen students like Anthony Doucette are paying the price, says Sue Trabant, a teacher at College Heights secondary school.
Trabant wants the school board to develop a standalone policy to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students, claiming the Safer Schools live binder document that came into effect six months ago is not fulfilling that purpose, and students are being bullied as a result.
"We have a policy in place that says all students have the right to attend school in an environment free from sexual harassment, including abusive behaviour that includes discrimination against others based on sex, sexual orientation, and/or perceived sexual orientation, and we're failing in our schools," Trabant told trustees at Tuesday's public school board meeting. "We've made promises that can't be upheld. Our schools are not free or safe from this kind of bullying or harassment."
Trabant said the committee work of students, teachers, counsellors, trustees and school board staff a year ago, which updated the Safer Schools document available on sd57.bc.ca, is not getting through to students because they don't know where to look for that information. Instead of being prominently displayed as one of the menu options on the top of the district's home page, users have to scroll down near the bottom of that page to find the link, and students aren't accessing it. Trabant wants the website made more prominent and wants schools to display anti-bullying posters with a QR code students can easily load into their smart phones, which will take them directly to the Safer Schools site.
"I walk the hallways daily at my new school and things are not getting better, they're worse," said Trabant. "Students aren't accessing these web pages any more than they accessed the initial pages we collected information from. The information is out there, but only for those who want to access it.
"It's been six months since this was implemented and there's been no change. I'm trying to suggest a discreet standalone, anti-homophobic bullying policy. We need a disciplined policy to enhance all the supports we're putting in place for those bulliers that need more incentive to buy into these new practices. We need to address this issue before we're dealing with student suicides or a fully-involved police incident in School District 57."
Doucette, a Grade 10 student at Prince George secondary school, said he is continually harassed by other students who degrade him with homophobic slurs. Like Trabant, he believes a standalone sexual harassment policy would be more effective in discouraging bullies.
"Just the other day, I heard people say, 'Get the %$@! out of the way, you dyke, you're such a homo, you fag,' and that was just going down one hallway to get to my classroom," said Doucette. "The Safer Schools document has done nothing. If anything, people have stopped focusing and it's gotten worse. It's 2013 and people should be a little more civil."
Trustee Tim Bennett said the school board will take the comments of Trabant and Doucette into consideration and will include the Safer Schools project in its education and planning committee discussions to determine what's working and what's not with the program and make the appropriate changes.
"Student safety is our number one priority and we have to make sure we have a policy in place that protects all students in the district," said Bennett. "We can look at how to make that program even better to ensure the word is getting out there in the district and that students, teachers and the community as a whole know what the Safer Schools project is and how it benefits students of the district."