Training, not policy, needed to deal with homophobic harassment - InfoNews

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Training, not policy, needed to deal with homophobic harassment

May 16, 2013 - 6:05 AM

The Kamloops board of education is content with its bullying policy for now and sees no need to tailor-make it for homophobic bullying despite a Kamloops Thompson Teachers Association claim that school administrators aren't properly dealing with the issue.

Some trustees say they want to ensure all staff are trained to deal with those issues, not duplicate the policy for specific needs. However it hasn't ruled out taking action and instead will look at the issue through the education committee.

Trustee Kathleen Karpuk is worried explicitly stating which groups are not to be bullied or harassed would inevitably leave someone out.

“I would much rather work with the (teachers association) to develop training for teachers and administrators around how to react to bullying and harassment. I feel (that) this would be a much more concrete affirmation than an additional piece of policy that repeats what we already have in place. Seeing teachers and administrators actively working to solve the problem will do more to prove that we take the problem seriously than adding a page to our policy book.”

South Kamloops Secondary School teacher Don Wilson created a report on behalf of the teachers association asking the board of education to adopt a policy to protect all students. He told Infotel News the push to get a policy in place comes after instances of bullying turned to violence. He said while administration had the best of intentions, they did not know how to deal with the issue. 

Some trustees are also concerned the allegation was not raised when the teachers association presentated the need for the policy last month.

Gerald Watson, trustee for South Kamloops Secondary School, said he specifically asked for a reason why the policy is needed.

“It seems startling there was nothing in the report,” he said last week. “I'm not aware of there being a specific incident (where) the current policy doesn't already apply. We've got a very comprehensive policy.”

Watson is concerned if these situations are not being dealt with properly, but has his doubts because the current policy covers all types of bullying and administration is able to handle it appropriately.

He noted all administration are trained to deal with bullying and know to deal with any incidents immediately. He said he would be surprised to hear administration did not deal with an issue in the appropriate manner. Though he was told last week of the incident in question, he was not under the impression it was dealt with inappropriately.

Superintendent Terry Sullivan says instances of bullying are brought to his attention, including several over the past few years due to sexual orientation, and says they are often dealt with effectively at the school level.

“We're not trying to create a perception it doesn't happen, we have had students bullied because of their sexual preference," he says.

SKSS principal Cale Birk says he has dealt with bullying issues at his school and the primary concern is always the safety of the students.

"We investigate (these matters) thoroughly and we deal with them appropriately," Birk says. "We try to get as many voices as possible to get the clearest picture of what happened."

Though Birk did not want to speak to any particular event he says when issues come up, they are dealt with. The school is also proactive and tries to engage in awareness about bullying at the school level.

Birk says it is important parents engage their children at home as well and notifying the school of any issues brought to their attention. The quicker staff and administration get information about these incidents, the better they can deal with them in a timely fashion.

A couple of incidents through the years have escalated and needed further disciplinary action, Sullivan says, but the incident brought up by Wilson earlier this month happened a year and a half ago and was not brought to Sullivan prior to telling InfoTel News.

Sullivan says bullying is dealt with fairly effectively on a day-to-day basis.

“We have it in our schools, we're not different than anyone else,” he notes. “Teachers intuitively work at it every day, bullying is something we don't want to have occur in our schools.”

Sullivan notes the board is very sensitive to the issue. The Discrete Anti-Homophobic Harassment Policy proposal brought to the board last month touches on a number of areas, not just policy, and the policy committee wants to ensure it gets the time and energy it deserves, he says.

“(The teachers association request is) an opportunity to look at our practices and policies. We don't want students to feel uncomfortable. Who would want to go to a place where they're always bullied?”

Right now the district is following the normal process when a presentation is made—administration looked at the report and made recommendations to the trustees Monday night and the board referred the matter to the education committee.

That committee will likely go through many consultations and then make a further report to the board, though that will likely only happen in the fall with the end of the school year so near, Sullivan says.

Also read:

Kamloops school administration clueless about homophobia

Shock over school homophobic harassment, district response

To contact a reporter for this story contact or call (250) 819-3723


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