Pink Shirt Day’s theme this year is ‘Kindness” and to be “Kind.”
The annual anti-bullying day, this year, follows outrage, after a string of bullying incidents in Mission sparked a community wide conversation about an issue some say was long unaddressed.
The outage has administrators reaching wide for solutions, having consultations with staff, trustees, UFV experts, the RCMP, municipal hall, parent advisory councils and even the students themselves.
“The single most powerful thing for me personally was meeting with students from Heritage Park Middle, to talk about vision, their ideas,” said Superintendent Angus Wilson. “It’s not about another anti-bullying program.”
He sought out staff and students from the middle school, which was frequently described by parents as having bullying issues after footage of an assault of an LGBTQ student went viral in early January.
The assault resulted in the arrest of two students, and another student was arrested the following week for a separate violent incident.
Wilson met with around 10 students from the school’s LGBTQ community, who expressed the need of “supporting and embracing otherness, rather than not understanding it or fearing it,” Wilson said. “It’s about celebrating students for who they are.”
Administrators and District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) have been holding virtual forums with representatives from each school, the latest being on Feb. 8. A student from Mission Secondary School spoke about his experiences with bullying in the district, and highlighted the value of finding a connection with several teachers in junior high.
These types of conversations are ongoing; a larger, community-wide virtual forum on school safety was held yesterday (Feb. 18), again, with the assistance of DPAC. Approximately 75 people were expected to tune in to the conference, with speakers ranging from select parents to university experts, to district staff and administrators.
The experts were from UFV, and Wilson has met with a number of them specializing in different areas to ask what has worked in other communities. Many suggested working directly with the LGBTQ students, one from the criminology department spoke on the causes of school and community based violence, while others are helping with data and research and connections to possible allies.
Administrators are approaching the issues in two ways, the technical side, and the fundamental side, according to Wilson.
The former looks at structural questions: Are there enough supervisors?, is the district equipped with the best technology?, do they have enough staff and administrative support?
“That’s our version of, ‘A police officer on every corner,’” he said.
“It’s good for immediate prevention. Although, one of the things we’ve found is a lot of incidents are happening between 4 and 5:30 p.m, so it’s not going to fix that part.”
Fundamentally, the school district is asking about the root of the bullying problem, and how to discourage it before it starts, Wilson said.
Parents have suggested adding a second school-liaison officer to the school district, and municipal councillors have asked for a report from the Mission RCMP.
Administrators are in conversations with the municipality, and some councillors are also attending yesterday’s forum. Their considerations will come down to cost, Wilson said, adding their current liaison officer is excellent.
Provincially, the ministry of education and its partner, Safer Schools Together, are reviewing the district’s policies and procedures, as well as their responses to worrisome and threat-related behaviours. Staff are also being refreshed on violent-risk assessments and digital threats.