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Too many people willing to suffer in silence

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Organizer of bullying forum disappointed by turnout

A lower-than-expected turnout of parents at a special bullying forum in Whistler last week shows too that many people will suffer in silence rather than confront the problem, according to organizer, Leanne Du Four.

Thirteen people including local parents, the RCMP, teachers and Parent Advisory Council (PAC) members attended the Wednesday (April 18) meeting at Myrtle Philip School.

The forum is part of a series of anti-bullying discussions organized by parents within the Lower Mainland and Sea-to-Sky Corridor, in the wake of several serious bullying incidents within provincial schools. Locally, the most high profile case is a B.C. Supreme Court civil suit brought by Bob and Leanne Du Four and their daughter Jamie against the Howe Sound School Board and Whistler secondary principal, Rick Smith. They allege the school authorities failed to prevent bullying and harassment against Jamie Du Four while she was attending the school. The case is still pending. However the drop-off in interest over the issue of bullying in Whistler appears significant.

When the case became public last October, more than 40 local parents jammed into a conference room at Blackcomb’s Base Two to hear why the Du Fours had taken this action. During the meeting more cases of bullying came to light, resulting in parents demanding solutions for the problem at a local level.

Leanne Du Four says she is disappointed more Whistler parents haven’t kept up their initial drive to find a solution to the bullying problem.

"It is disappointing in that so many people are approaching myself and Bob privately over bullying incidents in the school here or in Squamish," she says.

"Even last week a parent approached me about an incident in school here, so it is ongoing and would have been nice to see these people come to the meeting and speak up."

Du Four believes too many people are afraid of the consequences of bringing bullying problems out into the open, and therefore strengthen the "code of silence" that further empowers the perpetrator.

"Since we went public there have been at least 10 cases of other local parents telling us of bullying incidents, some very serious," she says. "The parents have been very frightened for their children and themselves, and others have just had their child leave the school."

Du Four says many people may have the wrong impression that the problem doesn’t exist since no-one talks about it, and the momentum has dropped off. But she says the issue is still very much at the forefront in the Lower Mainland, which has seen students die as a result of bullying. She adds that schools are slowly starting to take the problem of bullying more seriously.

"I’ve heard there have been a couple of bullying cases in Squamish that the Howe Sound School Board wasted no time following up, so that is an improvement." However, she says mandatory anti-bullying policies need to be introduced within schools and the courts, so successive school authorities address the problem up front and so parents know where they can get help.

During last week’s meeting, Du Four outlined the reasons behind her petition that calls for such policy changes at the provincial level. Copies of the petition were given to Whistler Secondary and Myrtle Philip PACs for distribution. She says the petition is also being circulated among all District PACs in the province by the newly formed anti-bullying lobby group, Parents Against Violence Everywhere. Du Four expects it will take about four months to gather enough signatures to take it to Victoria, with the goal being at least 100 signatories within each B.C community.

Patti O’Reilly, who heads the safe schools sub-committee of the Whistler Secondary PAC, also told the meeting that all parents will receive a copy of a new anti-bullying booklet at the start of the new school year in September. She says the six-page book aims to inform parents of warning signs that their child is being harassed or could be a bully, and the steps they can take to remedy the situation.

Also speaking at the meeting was RCMP staff sergeant Hilton Haider, who outlined his case for installing a full-time police liaison officer within Whistler schools. Haider has already formally addressed both local PACs on the proposal and is awaiting for feedback from parents.

Du Four says the next major public anti-bullying forum in the province is being held in Nanaimo on May 6, 2001.

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