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Rally claims Robson administration won't deal with bullying

Shannon Hecker leads a rally to complain about the lack of action by John Robson elementary administration on her claim her daughter who is in Grade 3 immersion at the school is being bullied by a classmate. - Grant Granger/NewsLeader
Shannon Hecker leads a rally to complain about the lack of action by John Robson elementary administration on her claim her daughter who is in Grade 3 immersion at the school is being bullied by a classmate.
— image credit: Grant Granger/NewsLeader

A parent at John Robson elementary is accusing the New Westminster school of ignoring bullying.

Shannon Hecker organized a rally during the noon hour Thursday to call attention to the problem.

"They do nothing. They close the blinds," said Hecker. "It saddens me. It really saddens me to have to talk like this today."

Hecker said her eight-year-old daughter has been bullied by a classmate but her teacher and principal Karen Catherwood have not acknowledged it as bullying. Hecker said her daughter had been friends with her tormenter since kindergarten even participating in sleepovers and mutual birthday parties. But this school year the relationship has turned ugly, according to Hecker.

She said her daughter has been verbally abused several times, including swearing and excluding her from socializing with other students in the class. Hecker also claimed her daughter was intentionally tripped in gym class resulting in a cut on her chin that required three stitches to close, and although the whole class saw it nobody would stand up and say what happened.

"I know my daughter is telling the truth," said Hecker. "She is reluctant to engage with this child."

She added despite a documented email trail of correspondence, the school has not acted upon her concerns. "[Her complaint] was not taken seriously."

Hecker said other parents have endured similar experiences to hers including participants in the rally, but when she asked for them to speak out none did.

"Perhaps they're afraid, too intimidated to show their voice," said Hecker, a UBC anthropology student who has participated vocally in several rallies mostly revolving around First Nations issues.

Hecker said her daughter's case is a symptom of a much broader issue that's not being dealt with. She claimed many anti-bullying promotional programs are nothing more than capitalistic campaigns to sell pink bracelets and T-shirts. "It does absolutely nothing."

Robson parent advisory council chair Serena Trachta attended the rally as an observer and sympathized with both Hecker and the school administration. She said the school works hard to minimize bullying, and it's challenging to do their job because of all the protocols, policies and procedures they have to adhere to. For example, privacy issues can prevent a principal from talking about discipline of a student to the parent of the victim.

"There are so many restrictions on what administration can say it would drive a normal person to the edge," said Trachta.

She added there are incidences of bullying in the school and it hasn't been totally eradicated, "but it's not something that's out of control."

However, the school and the district can do better, she said.

"If that's all the kids are perceiving it as then we need to address it," said Trachta. "We need to get past the rhetoric. It's not about pink bracelets or pink T-shirts. It's about giving the kids tools to have an appropriate response to it, so when they show up they can feel empowered to deal with it."

Trachta said the individual issue has to be dealt with because there's only one Grade 3 French immersion class at Robson for both Hecker's daughter and her alleged bully.

New Westminster superintendent of schools John Woudzia said in a news release he couldn't comment on the specifics of Hecker's case, but he said the school's administration handled the matter by working within the framework of district policy and practices.

Instructions on how to formally appeal the decision has been forwarded to Hecker.

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