A screenshot from a local Instagram account video. The account appeared to be frequented by Mission students, and showed violent videos of students assaulting and bullying other students.

A screenshot from a local Instagram account video. The account appeared to be frequented by Mission students, and showed violent videos of students assaulting and bullying other students.

Parents, former students describe ‘culture of bullying’ in Mission school district

Nearly two dozen voices come forward speaking of abuse haunting the hallways in Mission, B.C.

Voices are coming forward with stories of abuse haunting the hallways of Mission schools.

Nearly two dozen parents and former students – who the Record is keeping anonymous – have reached out following a series of alleged in-school assaults last week, both of which were filmed and posted online. The parents describe a “culture of bullying” within some schools.

RELATED: 2 students arrested in assault of transgender girl at Mission middle school

Monday’s attack on a transgender teen by two fellow students sparked outrage in community, but many parents said the footage only captures a snapshot of what some local youth live through.

“‘You don’t know what it’s like to walk down the halls in Mission,’” said one mother, quoting her son. “He’s become a different person. He’s hard on himself. He thinks he’s a loser. He always puts himself down. He has no confidence at all. He used to do very well in school, and now, he just doesn’t care.”

That mother pulled her son out of school and moved away – an action some might call drastic, but one that seemed common among the parents to whom the Record spoke. Eight other parents said they had done the same.

RELATED: Thousands participate in solidarity parade for transgender student who was bullied

They describe their children being subjected to physical violence by groups of bullies, continuous online harassment, and permanent trauma causing personality changes, depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and other mental health deterioration.

One mother said her son suffers from PTSD as a result of the bullying, leading to ongoing counselling years after graduation.

“He is still waking several nights a week with nightmares about the assaults he suffered,” she said. “He now chooses to do his online school work during the night and sleep during the day, as he is less likely to have these troubling dreams.”

These cases – the majority ongoing or from recent years – shed light on a long-unaddressed issue, according to many parents, leaving most with the opinion the current anti-bullying procedures in schools are inadequate and need to be reworked.

Of the parents the Record spoke to, with children currently attending schools in the district, the most extreme cases (but not all) relate to École Heritage Park Middle School (EHMS).

Last week’s assaults led to the arrest of three girls who attended the middle school.

The teen who was attacked on Jan. 11 was being targeted because they identified as transgender, according to the victim’s mother.

She said the bullies frequently used homophobic slurs, and they were all from the same social circle – one of them had a long history of abusing her child.

A common theme among the parental worries about EHMS is the group aspect of the abuse.

One said there are at least 20 bullies terrorizing the rest of the student population, and her child’s situation was not unique.

“They’ll pick on anyone. Every single kid probably has had something happen to them.”

The students know there will be repercussions if they “snitch,” said one parent, and many fear they will be targeted if they don’t passively participate.

“Friends are now more influential, and [my son] refuses to tell me who’s doing what,” she said. “[He fears] he will then be ostracized and a victim himself.”

Students are threatened to end friendships with the victims, according to one parent, who said her child was told to “cut them off or get jumped.”

Some said physical violence and intimidation occurred in the wider community outside of schools.

The number of out-of-school suspensions at EHMS for assault, fighting, physical aggression, and dangerous behaviour do not indicate the school is more violent than others (or show an increasing trend), according to data provided by the district.

There have been 14 out-of-school suspensions at EHMS this year and 22 at Hatzic Middle School (HMS). Over the same time period last year, there were 13 and 20, respectively, and the year prior showed similar numbers.

Superintendent Angus Wilson said that cases of fighting and assault, however, were up 50 per cent at the middle schools. He said he’s heard from the ministry of education these numbers are up 40 per cent across B.C.

But Wilson said suspension statistics can be misleading. For instance, an absence of them in one school could indicate bullying issues are going unaddressed.

Examples of these punishments range from mandatory counselling to in-school suspensions, partial re-entries (half days), school community service and restrictions of movement, Wilson said.

Up until the assault on Jan. 11, he said the district did not realize a problem might exist at the EHMS.

“There’s a sort of onion-peel effect with this; once you start digging in you find more stuff” Wilson said. “That doesn’t give us an excuse … but it’s an ongoing process.

“You put a program into a middle school and you have to keep at it, because three years later, those kids are done, they’re somewhere else. There’s no one shot that fixes everything.”

The proliferation of new, hard to monitor social media platforms has created virtual hallways for abusers to follow the victims home. Tik Tok, Instagram and WhatsApp have all been mentioned by parents as tools of harassment.

Many said their children are filmed being assaulted, confronted, harassed and humiliated on these platforms.

“He’s told to kill himself … They love to create group chats together and then threaten other kids,” one parent said.

A local Instagram account, which appeared to be frequented by Mission students, lends credence to the parents’ claims. Numerous videos of students assaulting and bullying their peers were posted on the account before being taken down.

RELATED: Another Mission student arrested for assault, in 2nd case of in-school violence this week

And last week’s alleged assaults are not the first time in-school violence in Mission has been caught on tape and shared online. In July, 2019, a video of a student from being knocked unconscious by another student was reported widely around B.C.

In fact, prior cases of bullying in Mission have set a precedent in Canada’s legal history. In 2000, following the suicide of 14-year-old Dawn-Marie Wesley, bullies were held accountable in a court of law for the first time.

Cindy Gale, Wesley’s mother, has spent the last two decades speaking with the families of bullied youth, educating them on warning signs and how to find assistance.

“I feel like Mission should have been – and was when I left – a leader in anti-bullying. I feel like they’ve gone backwards.”

A common thread among parents who’ve made complaints to the district include concerns about insufficient communication from administrators regarding in-school incidents, a lack consequence for bullies, and solutions that seem to punish the victims.

Children are told to eat their lunch inside the school office, are assigned special supervisors to watch them at lunch, are advised to arrive early or late to class, and offered alternative methods of travelling home to avoid confrontations with bullies, according to parents.

One mother said the solutions are “reminiscent of the days of victim-blaming in rape cases.”

“[It] places the focus firmly on them, sending the message that they are fleeing the problem, and that the bullies are untouchable,” she said. “I have never heard of anything exceeding a short-term suspension for bullying, even in instances where this has been sustained and targeted over a prolonged period, with endless documentation.”

These measures are just practical considerations, according to Wilson, and typically, bullies are the ones receiving consequences that restrict their freedoms.

Parents also complain about a lack of information about the specific incidents, consequences that are handed down to bullies and what the school is doing to address the issue.

Gale said she’s seen school districts not notifying parents when a child is being bullied. In her case, she wasn’t aware her daughter was being bullied until two days before her suicide.

Wilson said that unless there’s physical danger, they tend to not tell a parent what happened to the other student because it violates privacy legislation, but they do make exceptions.

He said that reporting incidents is very important. The district has an anonymous reporting tool call ERASE ,which brings the issue directly to Wilson. He said inquiries will then be made “downwards rather than upwards” in the system.

“I totally understand the frustration – it’s a really difficult issue. There’s no silver bullet with bullying,” Wilson said.


@portmoodypigeon
patrick.penner@missioncityrecord.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Mission

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An Ater-group Airon Slug identified during YES’s Bio-Blitz. (Yellow Point Ecological Society photo)
Yellow Point Ecological Society’s Bio-Blitz a big success

The Yellow Point Ecological Society held their first-ever Bio-Blitz over the weekend… Continue reading

Grade 12 LSS student Catherine Sampson, Grade 8 LSS student Cianna Vincent, and LSS Aboriginal Education teacher Brenda Kohlruss led the LSS ceremony honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people. (Cole Schisler photo)
Ladysmith Secondary ceremony honours missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls

A small ceremony was held in the LSS foyer on the National Day of Awareness for MMIWG

Peter and Wayne Richmond and 49th Parallel Grocery won the award for Business Achievement 20+ Employees at the Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce’s 22nd Black Tie Awards on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (Submitted)
Ladysmith businesses recognized at Black Tie Awards

Black Tie Awards are given annually by the Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce

Ladysmith’s Town Council met on May 4 and set a 0.52 percent increase for 2021 property taxes. (Town of Ladysmith/YouTube)
Town of Ladysmith adopts 0.52 percent tax increase for 2021

Mayor Aaron Stone praises the increase as among the ‘lowest in the province’

The CVRD introduces new app to contact residents during emergencies. (CVRD photo)
CVRD launches new app to spread information during emergencies

Cowichan Alert is a free app that can be downloaded onto smartphones, computers

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O���Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

(Kamloops This Week file photo)
Federal police unit takes over probe of B.C. regional district’s spending

Financial Integrity Sensitive Investigations Unit is now reviewing the case

A black bear made a visit to downtown Vancouver Tuesday, May 4. The animal was spotted on train tracks in Gastown shortly after at 2:30 p.m. (Twitter/Craig Minielly)
VIDEO: Black bear spotted meandering around downtown Vancouver

The bear was reportedly tranquilized by conservation officers Tuesday afternoon

Vivian Hermansen, Snuneymuxw First Nation, initiator of petition e-3281. Photo by Karen Evans.
Status card wait times an example of systemic racism, says Campbell River woman

Snuneymuxw woman launches petition as people waiting up to two years, as passports take three weeks

Flow Academy is located at 1511 Sutherland Avenue in Kelowna. (Michael Rodriguez/Capital News)
Interior Health locks out Kelowna martial arts gym following COVID violations

Actions were taken after all other steps to gain compliance were exhausted, says health authority

A man who allegedly spat at and yelled racial slurs at an Asian family was arrested for hate-motivated assault Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
Arrest made after man spits, yells anti-Asian racial slurs at Victoria mom and kids

The man was arrested for hate-motivated assault near Quadra Elementary School Tuesday

A lady wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada may find it challenging to reach herd immunity from COVID-19, experts say

Level of immunity among the population changes with the variants, especially the more transmissible strains

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

The courthouse in Nanaimo, B.C. (News Bulletin file)
Island man sentenced in Nanaimo after causing a dog unnecessary pain and suffering

Kiefer Tyson Giroux, 26, of Nanoose Bay, given six-month sentence

Most Read