Regular readers will be aware that I'm no fan of the government's Bill 13, because of what it doesn't contain - accountability and reporting. If the current government wants to do something that will actually help solve the bullying problem in our schools, they must be forced to understand that their Bill 13 fails to do so.
“We need to make bullying taboo and socially unacceptable the same way drinking and driving became intolerable 25 years ago.” ~ Colin McSweeney
As MPP Lisa McLeod, Conservative Education Critic, said of the government on March 26th, "insecurity of losing control of the agenda has gotten the better of them". This cannot be allowed to continue. The Liberals seem more worried about trying to gain a majority, ( and thereby have free reign to mismanage the province for another four years ), than about kids being tortured and dying. A search of the press releases on the OntarioLiberal.ca website for references to "bullying" comes up empty. So much for our "education premier", as McGuinty styles himself.
How committed can they be to safer schools when they can't find a reason to even mention the issue in over twenty pages of news releases? There is only one mention of bullying in the entire site - a McGuinty video wherein he jumps on the "It gets better" bandwagon with empty words and no commitment. Their current "Forward. Together." policy booklet makes no mention of bullying at all. Some commitment.
I intend to express my desire to see an effective response to victims and bullies alike. If we are to tackle the problem, we must first know how bad the problem is. Bill 14, with its requirement for accountability and reporting will help to achieve that goal. As it now stands,the government's Bill 13 will not improve the response currently required by school and board staff. By basing the determination of how effective the program is on bi-annual student surveys, and keeping the results for internal use, the government will have no evidence based data for policy review. Bill 14 requires the investigation and reporting of all bullying incidents, and the Minister to publish the numbers annually.
“We are calling on all parties to work together and take time for careful consideration over the drafting of a final bill." ~ Lisa McLeod. MPP
The Liberal bill also lacks a comprehensive definition of bullying, or any specific reference to cyber-bullying. Bill 13 simplistically attempts to define bullying as based on gender, religion, or race, an ineffective and narrow definition that ignores all the other victims; victims like my son who was bullied because the perpetrators could get away with it, no other reason. The scant mention of cyber-bullying in the Liberal bill also reveals a government that is appallingly out of touch with current reality. The relentless, round-the-clock attacks through social media has changed the very nature and severity of bullying today, yet the government seems unaware of this.
Many others besides myself have noted that the repeated use of the word "may" instead of the word "must" in the Government's bill. Rather than compelling the boards to act in a specific manner, they are merely suggesting various actions. By allowing individual school boards to control and define their own anti-bullying initiatives and incident reporting, the current system is hopelessly ineffective and confusing, and allows boards to manipulate the system to their own benefit. This is something I've personally encountered. Bill 13 does nothing to fix this, and only exacerbates a bad situation. Getting reliable information, ( or any information for that matter ), from schools and boards is virtually impossible today. By requiring the boards to supply timely, accurate data for the Minister to publish, Bill 14 addresses this vital part of the equation. Parents have an absolute right to know what is going on at their childrens' schools.
“This is one issue where partisan politics and special interest agendas should not get in the way of the ultimate goal: protecting kids from bullying." ~ Allan Hubley ( Father of Jamie Hubley, bullycide victim ).
The center piece of Bill 13 is the establishment of clubs in schools to support specific groups. The problems with this plan are many. Religious groups have rejected what they see as an intrusion on their rights, and legal opinions have been put forward pointing out serious flaws with the concept as presented by this government. By applying a narrow focus on specific groups, the Bill creates the impression that other bullied children are not of importance, and that some are more equal than others - precisely the reverse of the government's own claim that it is promoting diversity and acceptance in our schools. Simultaneously, the Bill dilutes the language the issue of itself, describing it as one of many school issues unconnected to bullying. I also see another problem with the logic, or lack of it, in this part of Bill 13. This kind of officially sanctioned tolerance club will never attract the bullies. It's the last sort of thing a student with anger and violence issues would do. Once again, the Bill ignores half of the issue by doing nothing to help the bullies or potential bullies.
The Liberal government under Dalton McGuinty must be convinced to see the problems with Bill 13, and how including Bill 14 can alleviate them. Unfortunately, they are treating the opposition and, by extension, parents, students and concerned citizens with their usual condescension and arrogance by refusing to work with all concerned to write the best law possible. They have even had the audacity to claim they are "introducing" expulsion as a possible consequence of bullying. This is a flat out lie. Expulsion is already included in the Education Act, it's never been removed. The problem, once again is the language - the Act makes it nearly impossible due to endless loopholes, appeals and options available, allowing the school to effectively do nothing at all.
Regardless of all the other problems with Bill 13, if the government refuses to set aside their paranoid obsession with their shallow minded politics and retaining control of the issue, bullying will continue to torture and kill our children. I intend to do my part to enlighten them as to the error of their thinking.