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Efforts to combat bullying continue

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Bullying may have made it off the front pages of the Vancouver newspapers but efforts to nip the problem in the bud have not slowed at a local level.

Parents, police and students are undertaking separate but overlapping initiatives aimed at curbing bullying and harassment among young people in the community. The action has largely been driven by a spate of publicized bullying events throughout the Lower Mainland over recent months, including the Du Four family’s civil suit against school authorities over their part in alleged bullying incidents at Whistler Secondary.

Whistler RCMP have put a proposal to the municipality and the Howe Sound School District to install a full-time police liaison officer at the local elementary and high schools from September, 2001. Staff Sergeant Hilton Haider says the officer would help expand the existing stretched community policing program.

"Community constable Ray Bernoties does work within the schools but many of his hours are taken up dealing with other problems in the community, such as accommodation issues and equipment theft on the mountain."

Haider says having another full-time community officer would enable real progress to be made with school Drug Awareness Resistance Programs (DARE) as well as anti-bullying and harassment education.

"Theft and drugs tend to be more of a problem in larger schools than here but a lot of issues such as abuse or problems at home can be identified in the school environment." Having a full-time officer may also help overcome the negative perception of police that children often gain between the ages of eight and 10, he added.

"Some kids are terrified of the police because they are very impressionable at that age and one negative comment from mom or dad can create a long-term psychological effect."

Under the RCMP proposal, the new position would be co-funded by the Resort Municipality of Whistler and the school board. Haider says both parties have given verbal support to the idea and he expects to receive final confirmation within the next few weeks.

At the school level, a group of Whistler Secondary students involved with the Safe Schools Program will be attending a special symposium entitled Youth Against Violence next week in New Westminster. The two day event on Feb. 15 and 16, is sponsored by the Attorney General’s community programs division.

Patti O’Reilly, who heads a bullying and harassment sub-committee of the Whistler Secondary Parent Advisory Committee, says the students will attend a series of workshops and then report back to their peers.

"For such a small school it shows a good level of commitment that seven students can afford to take time off classes to attend these courses," she said.

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