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Whistler parents prepare for forum on bullying

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Whistler parents are preparing a list of anti-bullying policy recommendations to take to a special public forum on bullying in Surrey, on March 11.

The event is being held on the first year anniversary of the death of 14-year-old Hamed Nastoh, who jumped off the Pattullo Bridge after incessant bullying and teasing at school. Spearheading the forum is his mother, Nasima Nastoh, who says she is doing so at his request.

"After my son died I found seven pieces of notes that said, ‘mom, please go to the school and ask kids to stop bullying each other because I don’t want anyone to do what I did,’" she said. "I later found out he was teased every day and called gay, faggot and queer but his note said he wasn’t, and that is why he was taking his life."

Among the speakers at the forum will be Cindy Wesley who lost her 14-year-old daughter Dawn Marie to suicide related to bullying, Jane Forin whose son left school due to threats after videotaping a school-yard fight, and Leanne Dufour, whose daughter Jamie left Whistler Secondary for Pemberton because of alleged incessant bullying by her peers. A civil case is now pending against the Howe Sound School Board and Whistler Secondary principal Rick Smith.

Whistler Parent Advisory Council chair Sue Dauglis says the PAC has received a list of recommended changes from Leanne Dufour relating to how schools and the legal system deal with bullying. She says parents, the Safe Schools Committee and other interested groups will meet next week to decide upon an endorsed list to take to the forum. Some suggestions are unlikely to get through because of their controversial or legally problematic nature, she added.

A central theme throughout Leanne Dufour’s recommendations is the need for documentation of bullying incidents. She believes recording details is the first step to accountability and also helps identify bullying patterns early on.

"In Washington, schools are keeping records to get a history of children who bully and it is mandatory that those children receive counselling so they are helped also," Dufour said.

However, she says ultimately it is the treatment of the victims that needs to change.

"I have had calls from parents all over B.C whose children left their schools because of intense bullying," she said. "If someone has to relocate it should be the bullies, since they will lose the power they have over their friends." She says two families in Squamish actually left the district because their respective son and daughter were too terrified to go to school.

Dufour says a policy of zero tolerance against bullying has been in place in B.C schools for 10 years but it isn’t working.

"Zero tolerance is based on the discretion of each school or teacher and conduct codes don’t mean a thing if they are not upheld."

Dufour says teachers, pupils, the RCMP and parents move through the education system at different times so a system that works one day, could be gone the next. A regulated, mandatory policy needs to be put in place to ensure accountability and permanent protection of students, she said. Under the current system, victims are too afraid to come forward because the support systems aren’t there and "the retaliation for informing is unbelievable," she says.

Nasima Nastoh agrees. She says the term bullying should be changed to terrorism, because of the terror the victim suffers. She hopes that by raising awareness about bullying, effective anti-bullying programs will be set up in B.C schools.

RCMP and provincial politicians are also expected to attend the forum. Nastoh says she is also trying to track down the parents of murdered schoolgirl and bully victim Reena Virk to invite them to the conference.

Meanwhile the Whistler PAC says it plans to release a pamphlet for parents this September on what to do if you suspect your child is being bullied.

Anyone interested in joining the discussion group next week on anti-bullying policy recommendations can telephone Sue Dauglis at 932-7294 or Patti O’Reilly at 932-2075.

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