With the recent focus on bullying in schools in the wake of Maple Ridge teen Amanda Todd's suicide, one White Rock mother is wondering why her child was being punished for defending himself during a recent bullying incident.
When Lara Fominoff went to pick up her six-year-old son from White Rock Elementary last Tuesday, she was told that he had been involved in a fight and was sent to the principal's office. While the details were scarce, Fominoff accepted that her son had misbehaved and took her son home.
However, when Fominoff noticed her son was limping, she asked him about the incident and it was then that her son revealed a child three years his senior had approached him and shoved him to the ground while he was playing.
"Then the kid picked up my son and threw him to the ground," said Fominoff. "So my son fought back, saying 'Don't do that to me' and kicked the boy."
When Fominoff found out, she went back to the school to ask why her son was punished and made to apologize for defending himself.
"Well the principal said that there was a blanket policy and violence was not tolerated, period," she said. "And I asked even if that means a kid is defending himself and she said it didn't matter, both children will be punished."
And it's there that Fominoff sees a problem.
"That's not right, I'm never going to punish my child for defending himself from an attack by an older child, or anybody," she said. "So I wasn't satisfied by the response (that) he would be treated exactly like the instigator here."
According to Doug Strachan, manager of communications for the Surrey school district, which also covers White Rock schools, district policy is clear that violence in any form is not OK, no matter what the circumstances.
"The bottom line is that schools are to be free of violence in any form," he said. "The codes of conduct are quite clear that intending to injure somebody or being violent towards somebody is not OK just because you're reacting to what somebody's done to you."
However, Fominoff argued that while violence should be avoided at all costs, to penalize someone for defending themselves while being attacked is wrong.
"I would like to see them use some discretion," she said. "When you apply a policy without thinking about it, there's no separation or distinction (between the victim and the instigator)."
The Surrey school district's code of conduct reads as follows:
"The Board promotes clearly defined behavioral expectations that represent the highest standards of respectful and responsible citizenship and lead to a culture of non-violence among all persons in all schools and at all school-authorized events and activities.
"To this end, the Board expects that persons will: refrain from engaging in, or encouraging acts of violence of any form."
Strachan said that each incident of violence and the resulting punishment is decided upon by a case-by-case basis and pointed out that if policy allowed for physical retaliation, you'd have to go about defining what would be considered acceptable.
"Then you have to start defining things like that person only hit you with their right hand and then you kick them with your left leg, so is that an escalation?" he said.
"Then you have to start defining what appropriate retaliation is. It's almost silly to start to say it's appropriate."
Rather, Strachan would like to see children defend themselves in others ways.
"When you talk about defending yourself, it can amount to curling up in a ball, running away or screaming for help. It can amount to running to the teacher," he said.
But with the onus then on the victim to do something to avoid the situation, Fominoff would just like to see something to distinguish what's right and what isn't.
"Everybody shouldn't be lumped together, that's not right," she said. "How do you teach children what's right and what's wrong if there's no distinction there?" firstname.lastname@example.org
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