“Bullies” 1byNancy Knight zxg Bullies 1. Innocence and IgnoranceOne day in the spring of 2001, I was sitting at my computer desk. I staredat the sheets of paper scattered in front of me. A ribbon of letters andpunctuation marks stretched like a banner across the top of each page:http://us.geocities.yahoo.com//gb/view?member=daveknightisgay. I knewthe last four words, daveknightisgay, were a lie meant to humiliate him. Theinsult could have been just another childish prank—except that it was awebsite, available for the whole world to see. There was a photograph of my son, David, at fifteen years old, on thefirst page. He was wearing a baseball cap. I turned to the next page. “Tellyour friends what you think of Dave Knight!” it said. I glanced over the linesof text that pretended to introduce each contributor: J, Maveric, FU, Cpt.David Knight, ur mother, and dogg. The name of the school my children hadbeen attending was printed above each entry: Pearson. I started to readthose comments one more time, courting the pain they caused; as if withthe suffering, I could purge myself of the guilt of inadequacy. I am hismother. I couldn’t protect him. Am I a failure? *** "dirty fagget get somes friends and then take a shower and get urmother some glasses"; "stop using date rape on little boyz and then takinthem in the back of ur car. your dirt and so is ur sister..."; "dave is thebiggest fucked up fag i have ever met! his mom was on something bad whenshe had him. U think ur so tough dave but ur not ur a flaming homo"; "Why
“Bullies” 2byNancy Knightdon*t you get a real car...how come your mom doesn*t drive? Oh yea she isblind. Hahahahahah"; "FAG!!! cum guzzling queer"; "dave ur such a fag, itsunbelievable fuck...ur a ugly gay loser who has no life/friends...u rev urengine and look really gay, o well i gess some ppl never learn (ie. daveknight) u fuckin f"; "come rape me daviD" *** I had been trying to get it stopped for months. David and my husband,Michael, had tried to help. Months went by. I finally turned to the internetand searched for words like internet abuse and harassment. I spent dayslooking for defamation cases. A dog breeder had successfully sued someonefor posting lies on the internet about the quality of her puppies. Eventually, I found an article about a large corporation based inChicago, which had successfully sued several former employees who hadslandered some of its executives online. I phoned the company’s office inCanada, and then their legal department in Chicago. Their lawyer referredme to the law firm that had handled their case. I finished reading those hate filled words. Then, I picked up the phone.In an instant, I was speaking to a lawyer. “I need your help. There’s awebsite about my son. The service provider won’t take it down. The policeand the school haven’t helped.” “Could you send the website address to me?” he asked. “Um, I’m not sure. It’s just that it’s not very nice. It’s horribleactually.” “That’s ok,” he reassured, “I don’t mind. I need to know exactly whatwe’re discussing here.” I went to my computer. “Ok, I’ve got it,” he emailedback. Then, we were talking on the phone again. “Could I speak to David,please?” I called David and handed the telephone to him. A moment later, hehung up and turned to me. He began twisting his upper lip with his thumband forefinger, the way he always did when he was nervous or afraid. Hewas looking at me, waiting for some sign of possible trouble. “Mom, hewants me to write about all the stuff that happened.” “I know, David. You can do it,” I said. He had been bullied for eightyears. Where could he possibly begin? I wondered.
“Bullies” 3byNancy Knight David got started right away. He sat at his computer for hours thatevening and wrote out a history of constant psychological and physicaltorment. He emailed several pages of hurt and despair to Mr. Arthur: “Ihave tried hard to think of specific examples and events of this abuse. I canremember the phrases and words used against me, but they have occurredso frequently that I have trouble remembering specific instances. Byfrequently, I mean on an almost daily basis. Sometimes, maybe three, four,or five times per day.” We scheduled a meeting with Mr. Arthur and the following FridayMichael and I drove from our home in Kilbride, Ontario, to the lawyer’s officein Hamilton, about thirty kilometres away. We parked in a parking lot nearthe red brick building, a renovated remnant of the city’s past near thedowntown core. I grew up in Hamilton and throughout my childhood, I wascareful to avoid that neighbourhood of worn out commercial and lightindustrial buildings. That day, they looked upmarket with recently sand-blasted exteriors and a strikingly modern glassed atrium. We took the elevator to the third floor where Mr. Arthur greeted us. Hisexpression showed a slight disappointment. “Where’s David?” he asked. “We’d like to meet with you first, before we bring David in,” I answered.He must surely understand that we’d be sheltering our son, I thought. He introduced us to Courtney, the young, vibrant lawyer who would behandling our case. They led us into a large meeting room. It took us morethan two hours to explain what our lives had been like. “David has been picked on at school for years and now there’s thiswebsite. The emotional and physical abuse has been getting worse overtime. The impact on our family has been unbearable. “David has stomach aches and headaches. He often doesn’t sleep atnight. Michael and I have been losing sleep, too. We’ve all missed a lot ofdinners. It’s been difficult to make social plans when we never know whenour children will come home hurt or when the house will be vandalized.Michael and I have been arguing about all this. We’re suffering financially,too.” I paused. “I work in the information technology industry. I get paid by the hour.There’ve been meetings at the school and I’ve had to take the kids to thehospital a couple of times this year,” Michael added. I began again. “Our daughter, Katie, has really had a hard time, too.She was picked on because she’s David’s sister. We had to take Katie out ofschool. She hadn’t finished all of her grade ten credits but she started
“Bullies” 4byNancy Knightacting out and we were worried she’d get into more trouble than she’dalready been getting into. “David’s grades are suffering, too, and the stakes are high. He wants toget into the Royal Military College and the Canadian Air Force. He wants tofly F18 Hornets but he thinks he’ll be lucky if he makes it into a communitycollege. He’s been injured so many times over the years. The schoolprobably can’t stop it even if they finally did try. It’s so severe and sogeneralized now. He’s already been assaulted several times this year.” The following week, we were back in the lawyer’s office with David. Inyet another brightly lit room, the two lawyers patiently explained severalparts of Canadian legislation. One section in the Criminal Code of Canadaaddressed the “duty of care” that requires those with whom we entrust ourchildren to act as a prudent and just parent would. “There’s a lot happeningright now with regards to bullying, and this website is definitely libellous,”Mr. Arthur said. I didn’t know anything about bullying. I had only a vague notion ofwhat the word meant. There had been a lot of mean kids in Hamilton while Iwas growing up there in the 1950’s and 60’s. I’d even been picked on. Butthe only bullies I thought I knew were cartoon characters. Even as an adult,I thought youth violence was something that happened in big Americancities, not in Canada. The conversation quickly moved on. Mr. Arthur asked us what wewanted to accomplish. “Vindication for David,” said Michael, “He’s a goodkid and he didn’t deserve the treatment he got.” “I want to make sure it never happens to any other kid,” David said. “Correcting the systemic failings that allowed this to happen,” thelawyers reworded David’s request into legal jargon. “An apology, too,” we all agreed. “How will we get their attention? They’ll think it’s just another lawsuit,but, though money’s not important, if we ask for a lot of it, they’ll certainlypay attention,” I volunteered. As we walked back to the parking lot, I considered the seriousness ofwhat lay ahead. This is going to cost a lot of money, I thought. It was alsogoing to change our lives.
“Bullies” 5byNancy Knight During the next few weeks, we struggled to remember and documentdetails of every incident of harassment and every assault, every meeting,letter and phone call to school administrators and staff, police andgovernment. We went to the big drawer in the study and the cardboardstorage boxes in the basement to get the report cards, the notes, the policereports and all the victim impact statements we’d given to them. Over thenext few days, we told Courtney everything that had happened to us andanswered her many questions. Courtney sent us the first draft of the statement of claim at thebeginning of the holiday weekend. We searched through all of our notesagain. We relived our memories of each incident, confirmed the times andplaces, and made sure even the smallest detail was correct. Later, Courtney asked David and Katie to write about their memories.Michael and I wrote our stories in heart breaking detail in chronologies thatwere dozens of pages long. As time went on, we kept adding to the pagesas our memories came flooding back. ***Six years later, I gathered all of this together with hundreds of pages ofcourt documents. It’s all spread out on the floor of the small study in ourToronto apartment. The legal documents are sorted into coiled binders withlegal titles printed on their front pages like Statement of Defence, Affidavitof Documents, and Request to Admit. Within those documents, there arethe board of education policies and procedures, and the notes of schooladministrators and the superintendent. We had learned a lot during those years when our children attendedpublic school about how local boards of education function. They have aresponsibility to interpret and implement the provincial Education Act thataffects our children and their education. Criminal law, provincial law, privacylaw, and even municipal bylaws, individually and together, impact whathappens in schools. I’ve spent years, organizing and combining all of this information into anarrative about the day to day lives of our children at school. As I worked, Iwas often overwhelmed by the magnitude of the violence and suffering my
“Bullies” 6byNancy Knightchildren had been experiencing everyday at school. I’ve been driven tocomplete this task by the knowledge that thousands of children are goingthrough what my children experienced—every, single day. How naive Michael and I had been. As parents, we plodded on. Wetried to support and protect David and Katie by working co-operativelywithin the system, only to find that the system: school, community, and lawenforcement, could not or would not help us. Over time, the bullying became more frightening. Trying to get itstopped became more frustrating. Year after year, in an escalating cycle ofabuse, our children suffered. We gathered strength and courage. Webecame more assertive and involved. But those who could make adifference chose to look the other way. By the time we withdrew first our daughter, and then our son, fromhigh school in 2002, I had asked at least seven teachers, eight schoolcounsellors and school staff, three vice-principals, four principals, twosuperintendents, two board of education staff, four parents of some of thebullies, one director of education, one ministry of education employee, onetrustee, the privacy commissioner’s office, and several police officers, tohelp. They all knew our children were being bullied. I know they knewbecause I told them in person, phoned them, or wrote letters or emails.Eventually I realized that the school principals were the ones who could havemade things happen, but didn’t. Over the next many years, I read everything I could about bullying,youth violence, and teenage suicide. [ I learned even more at the nationalconferences on bullying held in Ottawa and presented by Child and YouthFriendly Ottawa (CAYFO). There, experts from all over the world sharedtheir knowledge of this tragic subject. ] I wanted to understand what words like bully, victim, bullying andcyber-bullying mean. I looked up some definitions [in the AskOxford EnglishDictionary on the internet. I had some fun looking up the word bully andwas surprised and amused to find that the word bully was once a term ofendearment. It probably originated from the Dutch word boele (bull as inmale cow). I like this use of the word in a piece of old English literaturetitled: Thre Lawes published in 1538: Though she be sumwhat olde, it ismyne owne swete bullye. Later on in the 1500’s, the meaning of the wordtook a drastic turn and a bully became: ]
“Bullies” 7byNancy Knight“A tyrannical coward who makes himself a terror to the weak, a person whodeliberately intimidates or persecutes those who are weaker,” one entryread. [ All too often, bullies and victims are our own sweet and preciouschildren. Though all children instinctively seek acceptance, approval, andlove, bullies are children who have learned inappropriate ways to gain whatthey think is the attention they so desperately need. Bullies fail to learn appropriate negotiating and leadership skills. Yetthese are children who could otherwise become good leaders. If leftunchecked, bullying evolves over time. I witnessed this from the misdeedsof youthful urchins to the intimidating and threatening battles for power ofteenagers and adults. Bullies often get into trouble with the law. Littlebullies become big bullies in the workplace and at home with their ownpartners and children. Thus the bullying cycle begins again. Victims are the unfortunate children who happen to be in the bully’spath when the bully decides to find a target. Victims are usually isolated. Inthe long term, they may suffer from low self-esteem. They may beconvinced that they somehow deserve to be bullied. They’re ashamed andhumiliated by it. They often have trouble trusting other people. Victimsusually don’t want to talk about the bullying. That’s why our daughter Katiewouldn’t tell us what was happening to her. It was years before shegathered the strength she needed to realize that she didn’t deserve to bebullied and it wasn’t her fault. Bullies and victims are not the only children who are affected bybullying. Barbara Coldoroso, in her book: “The Bully, the Bullied and theBystander,” (Harper Collins, 2002) introduces us to the great multitudes ofchildren who are also affected by bullying. These are the children who areforced to witness this abuse day after day. As Ms Coldoroso wrote in herbook and I observed at my children’s elementary school, bystanders learnthat bullying behaviour is acceptable if there are never any consequences forit. They lose their natural empathy for the victim and come to believe thatsome people just deserve to be bullied. They see that bullying is a way togain power and that the bully always wins. They become the bully’sadmiring audience, they may align themselves with the bully (and help withthe bullying), or they may become bullies themselves--because they don’twant to become victims. After all, which one of these characters would yourather be--the bully, the victim or the bystander? So what is bullying? ] To me, bullying is what happens when someonewho is physically, intellectually, or socially more powerful hurts or denigratessomeone who is weaker. Bullying is not an argument between friends. It’s
“Bullies” 8byNancy Knightnot an impulsive push or shove or even a punch, though it could be any oneor all of these things. Bullying is a deliberate and determined plan of attack meant to lowersomeone else’s status within the group while raising the prestige of thebully. That’s why bullying almost always takes place in front of an audienceor for an audience. The bully very rarely bullies when he or she is alone. [ In the twenty first century we have cyber-bullying. That’s a futuristicword meaning the use of communications technology, like a computer or acell phone, to bully others. The psychological torment can invade theprivacy of your home and enter into every moment of your children’s lives.You may never know it is happening. ] Should we accept or even excuse a bully’s behaviour? I don’t believethat would be the kind thing to do. Teaching our children appropriate waysto build healthy relationships and modelling that behaviour for them is theresponsibility of adults. Firm, deliberate, and yet compassionateconsequences for behaviour that hurts others, are essential. This takescommitment from parents or educators or society. Someone must do thiswork. There is no other choice. Our children are paying a very high price asthis violence is allowed to continue. They are hurting themselves and eachother. The cost to society, in terms of lost potential and even the lives ofour young people, is too great.
“Bullies” 9byNancy Knight 2. The Early DaysEarly on, Mr. MacIntyre, David’s grade one teacher at the privately-ownedMontessori school, asked us to meet with him. He was having difficulty withDavid’s behaviour. “But if I had to choose someone to accompany me on along, difficult journey, it would be David,” he told us. Katie was attending that Montessori school, too. Both children hadattended the school since they were three years old. For the majority ofthose early years, Katie had been in a separate class from David’s. Two years later, Katie, then seven years old, had been in the sameclass as David for two years. She was doing fine and keeping up with hergrade two work. David was eight and in grade three. He was behindacademically and his behaviour was still a problem, Mr. MacIntyre, who wasstill David’s teacher, told us. He suggested we take David to a tutoringagency. But after we enrolled David, the owner of the Montessori school,Mrs. Taylor, called me every week for a month. “We don’t need their help,”she said. So we stopped taking David to the agency. Within days, the owner of that tutoring agency sent us a note:“David’s needs should be addressed in a determined way,” it said. “I’m sure the Montessori teachers and Mrs. Taylor, as the owner andadministrator of the school, will take care of David,” I told Michael. The following year, Mrs. Taylor, hired a new teacher for David’s gradefour class. There were no more holes in David’s turtleneck shirts. For years,I had imagined that he’d been pulling on them and I hadn’t mentioned theholes until then. “Good work, David, you’ve stopped pulling at your shirts.Look, they don’t have holes in them anymore!” “Mr. MacIntyre pulled my shirts. He dragged me out of reading circle.He made the holes,” David looked down at his feet and shuffled a bit. “Honey, why did he do that?” I asked, hoping to hide my shock. Mr.MacIntyre had been David’s teacher for three years and for that entire time,there had been holes in the shirts. “I couldn’t sit still, Mom.” “How often did that happen?”
“Bullies” 10byNancy Knight “Always,” he said. A month later, David told me he’d cut Darren’s hair with a pair ofscissors. Darren had been in David’s class since they were three years old.“Darren wanted me to. He said it was funny,” David grinned. When I phoned the administrator’s office, Mrs. Taylor told me not toworry, “The teacher is perfectly capable of handling the class,” she said. Soon after that, David told me he’d knocked over the room divider thatseparated the work area from the reading circle. He stood up too quickly, hesaid, and lost his balance. “What did the teacher do?” I asked. “She grabbed my shoulder and took me out of the room,” he said. Helooked down at his feet again. There was a nervous tightening in mystomach. When I spoke to Mrs. Taylor again, she said not to worry. Soon after, we went in to see the teacher, Miss Gregory. “He’s a veryactive boy,” she told us. “We need to nip this in the bud.” Nip what in the bud? I wondered. At home, David was a great kid tohave around. He was happy, funny, and loveable. But I began to noticethings. He was more active whenever the house was filled with company.He often did things without thinking first: he’d rush across the kitchen withan open carton of milk in his hands and trip over his feet, sending the milksplattering across the floor. Then, he’d carefully help to wipe it up. I tried calling different organizations, hoping to find answers to David’sbusyness. The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto transferred me to theirpaediatric psychiatry department. “Tell your son you love him every day,”the lady at the hospital instructed. “Tell him he’s a good little boy everychance you get. Make sure you find something for him to do, something hecan do well, at least once a day. He’s a good boy.” That was easy. David could build intricate models with Lego bricks.He could draw precise pictures of airplanes, boats, and cars. But there wasalso chaos. When he wasn’t playing at something he really liked, orwatching television, David was a bundle of energy—and a whirlwind ofaccidents. And things weren’t getting any better at school. I went to the phone book again. Soon, Mr. Sanders, a children’stherapist, was sitting in our living room. David came into the room andinterrupted our conversation three times. I didn’t think of his behaviour asdisruptive but Mr. Sanders noticed. “He might be hyperactive. Let me testhim.” Mr. Sanders spent many evenings assessing David. Months later,Michael, David and I were at the paediatrician’s office discussing thetherapist’s reports with her. “I’ve been thinking long and hard about this,” Itold the doctor. “David’s my son and I love him, but other people find it
“Bullies” 11byNancy Knightdifficult to deal with such an active child. His behaviour is isolating him fromhis peers. He’s in the middle of a game of Hide and Seek, he’s It, and hegets distracted and just walks away, comes home and starts playing byhimself. He leaves all the kids waiting for him, still hiding in the bushes andbehind trees. They get furious. I think we need to help him.” “Do you want to try this, David?” the paediatrician asked him after wehad discussed available medications. “Ok,” he said. “I want to be good.” The doctor prescribed a small, twice a day, dose of Ritalin for him.Ritalin is an amphetamine. For most of us, it would affect us like we’d hadseveral cups of coffee. For a hyper-active child, the results are different. Later in the day, we were all in the kitchen at home. We asked Davidwhen he would like to try taking one of the pills. “I’m ok with right now,” he said, sticking his hand out for one of thetiny pills and reaching for the glass of water we had ready. We startedtalking again. As usual, David carried the whole conversation. He wastalking quickly, trying to get as much detail about the latest airplane he’dbeen reading about into as short a time period as possible. Before Davidhad said six sentences we became transfixed, not on what he was saying,but on how he was saying it. His speech slowed; his sentences becamemore logical and concise; he looked more relaxed. “I feel like my brain is in a box!” he told us later with a huge smile. The Ritalin slowed his impulses and gave him a chance to think aboutwhat he was about to do and the potential consequences, instead of doingsomething as soon as it entered his mind. Mr. Sanders worked with Davidfor a few months. He prepared a classroom intervention strategy for MissGregory to use in the Montessori classroom. Soon, she started telling meshe’d noticed a wonderful improvement in the classroom. But weeks later, Mrs. Taylor started calling me again. “Mrs. Knight,we really don’t need the therapist. David chooses to misbehave. We canhandle it by ourselves.” She called me once a week for several weeks and Iwas getting more agitated with each call. Why is she always trying to stopme from helping David? I wondered. Is it the reputation of her school she’sworried about, or my child? The next evening, I phoned Michael who was working in OttawaMonday to Friday. “Mrs. Taylor keeps resisting. The therapist says she’sgiving him a hard time, too. Can you talk to her?” “Nancy, I can’t phone her from work and talk about David in front ofeveryone here.” I slammed the phone into its cradle.
“Bullies” 12byNancy Knight That’s when I started having trouble with my stomach. It just startedto churn and heave. Whenever I got nervous or upset the cramps came.They pounded downwards with such fury and without warning. “I can’t goanywhere without checking for washrooms,” I told Michael. “Mom,” David said, “you just have to take Imodiums.” “What are they?” I asked. “They’re stuff you take when you have cramps or diarrhoea.” Mychildren had been watching more television, and more commercials, than Ihad. With Michael away so much, and because I’ve had low vision for years,I rarely had time to watch television and I never read magazines ornewspapers. Mr. Sanders, when he came to the house to counsel David, startedsuggesting I transfer both David and Katie to public school. Then, Mrs.Taylor called me for yet another weekly conversation about not needing atherapist. I didn’t believe her anymore. “Mrs. Taylor, send David and Katiehome. I’m taking them out of your school,” I told the administrator. “Let me talk to Mr. Knight,” she demanded. “He’s not available. I’m their mother. Send them home.” “David’s a fine young boy, with concerns about his own behaviour,”Mr. Sanders wrote in his last report. He also wrote about David’s threerequests: David wished that his behaviour would improve, he didn’t want tobe bad anymore, and he wanted to get to his work. That summer, we took David to a psychologist. “Please test him. Wewant to know where he is academically and what we have to deal with.” “He’ll need lots of help to catch up,” she said after the tests weredone. “That’s ok. That’s our job,” I told her. By the time David entered public school, he was a well-behaved andintelligent ten year old, who had already determined his own future. “I wantto fly airplanes,” he told us. “You have to work really hard at school,” we said. “I will!” he answered.
“Bullies” 13byNancy Knight 3. New BeginningsSoon after my last conversation with Mrs. Taylor, I called the local publicschool and asked for a meeting with the principal. Mr. Hampton sat behindhis desk and observed me through his wire-rimmed glasses. His suit wasimmaculately tailored, a dark blue pin-stripe, crisp white shirt, navy tie withtouches of powder blue and daring red. I felt awkward in my faded butfreshly laundered summer blouse and my cotton-twill skirt. I wished that I’dhad a chance in the last month or two to get my hair styled, but with all thathousework, laundry and the spring gardening to do, I kept putting it off. “Well now, Mrs. Knight,” the principal said, “tell me about yourchildren. Nothing anecdotal though, please.” I watched his lips movingsomewhere in the midst of his thick, brown moustache and his full beard. I held my breath for a moment and tried to think quickly. But Icouldn’t remember, or possibly never did know, what the word “anecdotal”meant. I’d been a stay at home mom for nine years. I knew how to makecookies and edible play dough, peanut butter flavoured. But I didn’t knowwhat that word meant. So I guessed. “Well, my son is a sensitive boy. He cries easily when he’s upset. Hisface gets red when he’s embarrassed but he’s not afraid to express anopinion if he knows he’s right. He never gets angry at anything. David’svery smart. We’ve had him tested by a psychologist and his scores showhe’s far above average. He’s a little impulsive for a nine year old, but he’staking medication for his attention problems and he’s made greatimprovements with the counselling that he’s had. We’re really hoping hecan have a fresh start here at Kilbride.” “Thank you, Mrs. Knight. That’s very enlightening, and yourdaughter?” “Oh, Katie, she’s so quiet and shy, not outgoing at all. But she’sfriendly if approached kindly. She has the most beautiful brown eyes andwhen she smiles, well her smile lights up her whole face.” I was feelingmore comfortable, gesturing and smiling--a proud mom fluttering like aproductive hen. “She’s very smart too. She likes working on her own andshe’s really very organized. Her room is always tidy. Unusual for a girl onlyeight years old, don’t you think?” The principal stood up. “Please bring your children here next week sothey will have two weeks to familiarize themselves with this school beforesummer break,” he said and gestured towards the door. “Make sure youmeet with David’s teacher early in the school year,” he said.
“Bullies” 14byNancy Knight A few days later, I walked over to Kilbride School with David andKatie. I was filled with doubt. Am I making the right choices for my kids? Iwondered. When we reached the main road, the crossing guard greeted us with ahuge smile. He gave a deep bow as he removed his cap—to reveal acompletely bald head! We all laughed politely. Any worries I had weregone. David and Katie started talking about their new school. “It even hasa real gymnasium,” David said. Katie was placed in grade four. Marina, her friend from the Montessorischool, was also starting out at Kilbride School and was in the same class.Their new teacher was a lovely young woman with a bright disposition. Shewas a perfect teacher for a shy, quiet girl like Katie. After a holiday from Ritalin during the summer, David started takingone pill in the morning and another at lunch. He said the medication washelping him concentrate. Then David told me that his new teacher, Mr.Barnett, yelled at him to pay attention and to do his work. David said thathe had felt embarrassed and cried. “Don’t worry David, we’ll have ameeting with Mr. Barnett and explain why you might have trouble payingattention, but you have to try hard to do your work,” I told him that day. Within days, Michael and I met with David’s teacher. Mr. Barnett wasa young teacher—one of the best in the school, another mom told me later.The three of us discussed the difficulties David would have because of hisADHD and the classroom strategies Mr. Sanders had suggested. Though Iquickly realized that the teacher hadn’t read the information I’d given theprincipal to put into David’s file, I knew that Mr. Barnett understood what layahead. After our meeting, he helped David to focus by casually mentioninga fact or idea to David directly or asking him a question. He told us that David was making friends with two boys in the class.Not surprising, I thought. David had a bright mind, an entertaining sense ofhumour, a great reservoir of general knowledge, and an eagerness to sharethis information with others. It was no surprise to me that his new friends,Stanley and Aaron, were two of the smartest kids in his grade five class. Ithought that was just wonderful. What I didn’t understand, however, washow the other children, who had been raised in the casualness of the smallhamlet and on the nearby farms, would react to David. There would be academic challenges, too. David was behind. Mr.Barnett suggested we ask the vice-principal to flag David’s file so that hecould get extra resource help. I phoned the school and arranged a meetingfor the end of the following week.
“Bullies” 15byNancy Knight Meanwhile, at home, I started to help David catch up. It was hard.My vision hadn’t been good those last five years, but with some help from afew workbooks, multiplication tables printed on the back of the suppertimeplacemats, and a little creativity with pieces of macaroni to demonstrate longdivision, David made progress. Early that week, Katie told me that some of the boys had been callingher names. A few days later, I asked her if the boys were still botheringher. “No Mom, they stopped,” she looked at me as if she was the mightiestgirl in the world. “Why do you think that is, Katie?” I inquired. “I told Mrs. Patterson when she was helping me in the resource roomand she talked to them about it.” Mrs. Patterson, one of the school’sresource teachers, had been giving Katie extra help with multiplication. A day after Katie told me about that, I asked David and Katie aboutthe grass stains. I had first noticed the green patches on their clothing inearly fall, but because the play area behind the school was a grassy field, Iwasn’t worried at first. But David and Katie told me that some of the olderboys were pushing them. I phoned Mrs. Patterson and asked her to takecare of it. She had been able to stop the boys from hurting Katie so Ithought she would do something right away. But David was not as lucky. I started to ask him about what had been happening at school.He told me that weeks before, he had seen one of the older grade sixstudents assaulting a young child who was too small to fight back. “Pick onsomebody your own size,” David had called out to the bigger boy. The olderboy immediately left the younger child alone and turned his attention toDavid. The bully and his friends soon discovered that Katie was David’ssister and started pushing her, too. “Who are these kids?” I asked David. But I realized that, because mychildren were new to the school, they hadn’t learned the names of many ofthe children, especially the older mischief makers. I was getting worried as David continued to come home after schoolwith bad news, but I wasn’t sure what I should do to help. I decided to waitfor our meeting with the vice-principal, and to give David a chance toresolve the problem in his own way. But while we were waiting, David’sproblems got worse. “I was in the washroom,” he told me one day after school. “I finishedgoing and that kid who keeps pushing me was near the sinks. I asked himhow you use the towel.” I had seen the metal towel machines that werehung on the walls in each of the school’s washrooms. Their continuouslengths of white linen curled below each one. “Then the kid pulls the towel
“Bullies” 16byNancy Knightall out of the box. There was a whole bunch of it on the floor. The kidwraps it around and around his legs, all around his waist, and over hisshoulders. He put it over his head and his neck, too,” David twirled andmade circles around his body with his hands. “He was laughing,” Davidadded. Then his brow furrowed. He frowned. “Mrs. Patterson came in.” “Who is this kid?” I asked David, not expecting an answer. “His name’s Stewart Martin,” David told me. He lowered his voice in atone of authority. “Mrs. Patterson says, ‘Get right down to the office StewartMartin!’” David illustrated by pointing and shaking his finger at an imaginaryStewart Martin. But David’s fingers reached for his upper lip and startedpulling at it. “That kid Stewart, he said, ‘I’ll get you for this.’ He’s a prettybig guy, Mom. Why does he want to get me?” “Some people like to blame others, because they don’t want to takeresponsibility for their own behaviour,” I said. What sort of child couldStewart Martin be? I asked myself. I set David to work on his handwriting at the kitchen table while Isipped a cup of tea. I imagined Mrs. Patterson, the resource teacher whohad helped Katie, and who I had spoken to about the playground assaults,must have been working in the resource room just across from the boys’washroom. She must have heard the laughter and rushed inside. I started to find out more about Stewart Martin without even trying.Rumours about him had been circulating around our community. It wasn’tlong before one of the townspeople told me one of them. At the age of eight, Stewart walked into the small variety store thatserved the tiny hamlet, pointed a pellet gun at the owner and demanded allthe money in the cash register. The owner promptly went to the phone andcalled the community police officer. Stewart was taken home to his parents. I needed only the rumours to understand that my son had somehowattracted the attention of a troubled young man. I knew there was dangerbut I had no way of knowing what to do about it. Thank goodness ourmeeting with the vice-principal is in a few days, I thought. I’ll mention it toher then. Michael and I had that meeting with Barbara Mackenzie, the vice-principal. We talked about the psychologist’s reports and asked her to flagDavid’s file. We told her about the assaults and taunting on the playground,too. Mrs. Mackenzie wouldn’t agree to flag David’s file. She didn’t seemtoo concerned about the playground assaults either. She wanted to see ifthings would improve as David continued to take his medication, she told us.But days later, there was another problem.
“Bullies” 17byNancy Knight Kilbride Public School is set back from the hamlet’s main road by anacre of grass field. A residential street runs out from the front of the schoolpast several ancient maples that edge the field. The street crosses the mainroad and continues south. Jerry Woolcott, who was one of Stewart Martin’s closest friends, livedon that street. He had already participated in much of the playgroundbullying. David was by then the main target. That afternoon, Jerry waited on the driveway, at the far side of hishouse, hidden from David’s view. When David passed by, Jerry jumped ontohis miniature, but very real, motorcycle, revved up the engine, and spedtowards David. He came within six inches of David’s heels and chased himall the way home. By the time David bolted into the house and slammed thedoor behind him, he was gasping for breath. As soon as he could explain what had happened, I phoned BarbaraMackenzie. “He’s terrified,” I told the vice-principal after I explained whathad happened. “I’ll look into it,” she said. “It’s ok now, David. Mrs. Mackenzie’s going to look into it,” I told him.But then the problems with Christine began. Christine was taunting David on the way home. At first, I wondered ifhe was bringing any of the trouble upon himself. I started walking over tothe school. Every day, as I got closer, I heard Christine’s strong, projectingvoice repeating David’s name again and again. What I heard was not gentleteasing. “Just ignore it,” I told David. But telling a ten year old boy to ignorerelentless taunts, when the embarrassment was obvious on his crimson-redcheeks, was futile. By Christmas, the strain was frozen onto David’s faceevery time he came into the house. Katie stopped walking home with him. “I’ll take care of it,” Barbara Mackenzie said when I phoned her. ButChristine didn’t stop. Things weren’t getting any better at the school either. Aaron andStanley, David’s new friends, were away at special enrichment classes twodays a week. That’s when David was alone. And that’s when Stewart Martinand his friends bullied David the most. “What are they calling you?” I asked David. “They say things like fag, mother fucker, homo, loser...” “Ok that’s enough.” Those were words that David had never heardbefore, but they were quickly becoming a part of his everyday schoolexperience. The boys were starting to punch and kick him, too.
“Bullies” 18byNancy Knight Years later, we found notes that David had written about the winterdays after there had been a snowfall: “…In the cold weather, when all of thekids are wearing heavier clothing, they seem to think it’s safe to be morephysical. I would open the door to go outside for recess, and someonewould be waiting with a snowball or a fist to hit me with. It seemed thatevery day of my life was both a physical and mental struggle just to getthrough the day without cuts and scratches.” My sense of what kind of parent I could be was quickly diminished bythe pain my children were experiencing and my inability to get it stopped.Fearing that I was being regarded as just another worried mother, though Iwas trying hard to maintain a professional relationship with the school, Iasked Michael to get involved. Michael and I started arguing fiercely aboutthis and the tension between us worsened. I began to wonder aboutwhether or not I was expecting too much of the school. Is that what schoolis like these days? I asked myself. My school days were never like that. Ijust could not imagine a school allowing such aggression to continue. Just before that Christmas, I walked up to the school. Pat Hunter wascoming out of the building after her lunch hour duties as a playgroundsupervisor. “What’s going on and why is David getting picked on so much?”I asked. I was hoping to get more information from her than I had beengetting from everyone else. “It’s not a nice lunch,” she said. Frustration and anger seem tosurround her, I thought.
“Bullies” 19byNancy Knight 4. Little WeaponsWhen I heard the back door open and close, and the shuffling and bangingas they tossed their boots and coats onto the big wooden box in the backhall, I’d know my children were home. I could only hope that myexaggerated cheerfulness, when they came into the kitchen, could hide thedread that I felt. What happened today? I’d wonder. Katie always went right for the warm cinnamon loaf or the bite-sizepeanut butter cookies in the wicker baskets on the counter. Increasingly,without saying a word, she’d go up the stairs to her room. David usuallystood silently at the open refrigerator, looking for juice or chocolate milk.Often, as he started to settle in, I’d notice a quick change in his posture, atightening across his shoulders, and a snap in his voice as he told me whathad happened that day. These after-school rituals became a constantthroughout the years the children attended public school. I becameaccustomed to the daily outpourings of torment. That winter, David came into the kitchen after school and, avoiding therefrigerator, he walked right to me. I was standing at the kitchen sink. Hecarefully placed a shiny, steel blade on the counter beside me. “What’s that?” I asked softly. “It’s a comb,” he said. He was studying my face, staring right into myeyes. I knew there was more to come because my stomach started tosqueeze. I waited. There was a little tremor in his voice when he said thewords, “A kid showed it to me.” “He showed it to you?” “Yea he showed it to me. It was really scary. Then he went away.But he dropped it so I ran and got it. He didn’t see me. I put it in mypocket really fast.” “It sounds like the boy may have threatened you with it,” I said. “Yea, I think he threatened me.” I looked carefully at the knife-comb. It was made of two thin shardsof shiny metal bolted together and locked at one end around a tight wire coilso that the two sections could be jack-knifed apart to create a long, thinblade. The last third of one end was slotted like a comb; the other end wasshaped into a sharply honed point. The last thing those kids need, areweapons, I thought.
“Bullies” 20byNancy Knight The next day was cold with a strong, cutting wind. That morning, Iplaced the comb into an envelope. A little after noon, I tucked it under myarm and walked to the school. I walked past the back corner of the building,through the broken glass, pieces of metal and old newspapers that litteredthe ground around the overflowing garbage and recycle containers, andstarted looking for a teacher or a principal. The vice-principal was standing away from the school on the soft areaof the playground which stretched out from the black asphalt near the schoolto the baseball diamonds and the snow covered fields beyond. She stoodlike a frozen symbol of elegance in a long, fashionable cloth coat, matchinghat, gloves, and winter boots. I handed the envelope to her and explainedthat David had picked its contents up and carried the knife-comb home tome. The vice-principal looked into the envelope with obvious concern. “Ohdear,” she said, “I will definitely look into this and do something right away.” But months later, it seemed, she hadn’t done a thing. Nothingchanged. The taunting and the aggression at the school, and Christine’sharassment on the way home—none of it stopped. We were in the midst of one of the harshest winters we’d experiencedin Kilbride. The last thing I wanted to do was to walk over to the school andback with my children. But other children from the village were starting tofollow Christine’s lead. Soon their taunting, including rude remarks andgestures, were directed at me, too. I phoned Christine’s mother. “Please Lorraine, just tell her to leavehim alone,” I pleaded. When I called the school Mrs. Mackenzie’s answer was always thesame, “We’ll look into it,” “check on it,” “ask about it.” Neither the principal nor the vice-principal would answer me when Iasked them what had been done. “We’re looking into it,” they would repeatlike an overused mantra. But the name calling and assaults at school, andthe harassment on the way home didn’t stop. Katie was starting to withdraw. She’d go right to her room and hardlysay a word. I could see the tortured pain in my son’s eyes every time hetold me what had happened to him. Michael and I had been arguing fiercely.It seemed that every day when he arrived home after work, I had anotherreport of persecution to tell him about. If he could only realized ourchildren’s pain, he would do something. I continued to plead with him totalk to the school. “The school will take care of it. Stop causing trouble,” hesaid. “They’re not doing anything!” I retorted constantly. I couldn’tunderstand why the school was not responding to my concerns. Maybe
“Bullies” 21byNancy KnightMichael’s right. Maybe I am causing trouble, I thought at one point andstopped mentioning the hurt feelings and scraped knees. But things onlygot worse. One Saturday morning Michael was sitting in the study shufflingpapers on the desk. I walked into the room. I tried to convince him to writea letter to the school and ask them to help my children. He kept shufflinghis papers. I fell apart. I threw the cold remnants of coffee that were in thebottom of my cup onto his papers. Some of the brown liquid splashed uponto his clothing. Michael fell apart too. His face went bright red. He looked like anangry animal. He came around the desk and, with his face just inches awayfrom mine, he screamed at me. I screamed back at him, “What kind of man doesn’t protect hisfamily?” Michael wrote the first letter to Mr. Hampton that day.***Dear Mr. Hampton,I would like to make you aware of a problem that is causing considerablediscomfort for my son David...”*** On Monday, I placed the letter in one of Michael’s old businessenvelopes, hoping that the professional looking identification of the Britishcompany my husband once owned would lend authority to the letter inside.I changed into my nicest blouse and a pair of dress slacks, took twoImmodium tablets, and slipped my newest spring jacket on before I left thehouse. My stomach continued to cramp as I walked along the village road tothe school. On my way, I rehearsed what I was going to say. The words I usedwould need to be carefully chosen. Mr. Hampton was an intelligent man,“...from a family of academics,” he had told me one day. Throughout myyears in public school, I had been taught to respect the adults who hadauthority over me. As an adult, I admired and trusted the educators whowere responsible for the care and education of my children. I wanted toensure a good working relationship with them, while I sought to show anadequate degree of assertiveness as the mother of my children. I held theletter tightly.
“Bullies” 22byNancy Knight I met the principal in the secretary’s office just inside the front doors.At that moment, I forgot everything I had rehearsed on my way over to theschool. “Here,” I said, “you’d better read this and do something about itnow.” But nothing happened. Absolutely nothing changed. So, Michael and Iwalked down the intermediate corridor and into Barbara Mackenzie’s tinyoffice. We started telling her what David was going through. She didn’tseem surprised by what we were telling her. Michael and I sat stunned asshe recommended that we enrol David in Karate lessons. “He’ll learn how todefend himself,” she said. We left the meeting feeling completelyinadequate. We had failed to advocate for our son. The vice-principal hadpromised nothing. Pat Hunter approached us just after we got into the car. “They’regoing to be starting Parent Councils in every public school,” she said, “Now,we wouldn’t want a say in what goes on in our school, would we?” sheadded. Oh yes we would, I thought. It took us two weeks to find a karate instructor who we trusted toteach our children the discipline and confidence they would need in order toendure the increasing aggression at school without becoming aggressivethemselves. After that, something strange started happening to me. I was gettingused to David’s daily reports of abuse. Of course, we were working hard toget it stopped. Of course, I could feel his hurt and anger. Sometimes Ibecame very frightened. Sometimes, I ran out of things to say or do. Mymind couldn’t get around it anymore. “Oh, he hit you again, did he? Well did you tell the teacher? Oh, youdid? Well that’s good,” I said, as if ending my sentence with one positiveword made everything all right. For a while, David came home for lunch and that eased the playgroundtrouble. Occasionally, the harassment stopped. For a while we all feltrelaxed, went on with our everyday lives, and trusted that the school hadfinally done something. But soon we were embroiled in another crisis andthe sickening fear returned. We would realize that the school hadn’t solvedthe problem after all and we were crushed once again. There was a respite from all of the taunting during the winter break.After that short reprieve, David was hurt again. When he told me what hadhappened, his eyes were wide and glaring angrily at me. Do something,anything, they silently signalled.
“Bullies” 23byNancy Knight “I was walking in the hall,” David told me. “Christine kicked me in thebum. It made me fall. All the kids were laughing at me.” “Why’d she do that?” I spluttered, stupidly. I yelled the words at him,as if it was his fault. He took a step back, startled. As usual, I felt non-functioning, useless. Maybe if he wasn’t so soft and sensitive these thingswouldn’t happen. Then I was ashamed of what I was thinking. I was tryingto find fault with my son, blaming him for what was happening to him,because I felt so inadequate myself. Of course David didn’t know why. Ihad no answers either. I couldn’t understand why a beautiful and popularyoung girl would kick my ten year old son in the bum. So we were in the midst of yet another sequence of heartrendingreaction, reluctantly polite communication with the school, and pitifullyinsufficient words of comfort for our hurting child. There was another roundof fierce arguments with Michael, but he wrote the next letter to theprincipal much quicker that second time.***“...David was again picked on by Christine Camden. He was calledderogatory names and kicked on the bottom. ...a very upsetting effect onDavid and is making it difficult for him to concentrate on his school work.We are already bringing him home at lunch to avoid similar occurrences withother students....we hope by dealing with it now, it won’t continue toescalate in the future...”*** Again I placed the letter into an old envelope and delivered it to theprincipal. “Please do something about this,” I said to him. But nothingchanged. Finally, I began confronting Christine every day as she walked homefrom school, bolder and more mean-spirited than ever. My eyesight wasjust good enough. I could pick out the tall blonde from the other smallerchildren. After a few days of being told off for her bad behaviour andembarrassed in front of her friends, she finally left David alone. Finally,David could stay at school for lunch again, so he could spend time withAaron and Stanley. That year another strange thing had been happening. David’s redPaddington Bear hat had disappeared almost as soon as school started. TheBlue Jays baseball cap went missing. Expensive sweatshirts were lost.
“Bullies” 24byNancy KnightWhen the weather cooled, he lost winter hats every week, along withscarves, mittens, and even a pair of winter boots. When David told me that some of the boys were stealing his clothes, Ididn’t believe him. I thought he must have been absentmindedly misplacingthings. After all, most of the students were well dressed. Why would theywant David’s things? I wondered. When I finally asked David’s teacher why children were taking David’sclothes, he told me it was all a game of Capture the Flag. The flag wasusually something David was wearing that the other students promptlyripped off of him whenever he left the school building for recess or lunch.The children ran after one another trying to capture the flag. Of courseDavid spent most of the time trying to steal back his clothes before the boyscould throw them over the fence or into the garbage dumpster. In the spring his brand new Nike baseball cap disappeared after onlyone week. These losses were costing us a lot of money and I was gettingdesperate. One evening, at the local team’s baseball game, I spotted one ofthe other boys with a Nike baseball cap on his head. It was exactly thesame as David’s. I was sure that was David’s hat and decided to confrontthe issue straight on. I walked towards the boy, ready to pounce and accusewhen I got there. But on the way, I decided I’d better be cautious. I approached the boy’s mom and tried to sound as polite as I could.“That’s a really nice Nike cap,” I complimented, “It’s exactly like the one webought our son last week. He only got to wear it a few times before it wentmissing.” “We bought it for him at the mall a couple of days ago,” the mom toldme. She looked right at me and smiled. “He’s been losing everything hehas,” she added, “We’re hoping he keeps this one a bit longer than the lastone and we told him he won’t be getting another one if this one disappears.” Not all of the problems were that harmless or ongoing. The violencewas sometimes completely unexpected. A boy we’d never heard of, walkedup to David and, for no reason at all, took a swing at him. David duckedfast enough to avoid being hit and then quickly punched the boy in thestomach really hard. The other child collapsed, gasped for air, gagged, andthrew up. The two boys were taken to the office where the principal yelledat them both. Michael and I drove the children to school the next morning and metthe principal outside. “The other child started it,” he told us, “and justly gotthe worst of it, too,” he said. He laughed as if he was telling us about a cock
“Bullies” 25byNancy Knightfight. “Of course, we’re supposed to have a zero-tolerance policy in effecthere,” he added with just a little more seriousness. Later, I had a more serious talk with my son. Years later, when hewas seventeen, David wrote about this conversation: “My mom was prettyangry. She told me that from that day on that I was never, ever under(any) circumstances to fight back. I listened to her, and that to this day hasbeen the only time I ever fought back.” Over time, David understood why this was important. Schooladministrators were always reluctant to discipline children for fighting.When the aggression was reciprocated, it was impossible to get them to dealwith the perpetrator. Both children were disciplined if school administrationreacted at all. I was also worried about the bigger bullies. The boy who hit David wastall but slight. David was smaller. But many of the older troublemakersbothering David were much stronger. I could only draw on my childhoodexperiences for the advice I offered him. I was fourteen years old, and on my way home from a Girl Guidemeeting. Two older girls forced me against a wall in a laneway. One heldmy head down so the other could thrust her knee upward and into my face.The incident left me partially blind in one eye and changed my life forever.It’s difficult to concentrate on your schoolwork when you can’t see very well. I wanted to protect my son. To avoid severe injury, the wisest thingDavid could do was to concentrate on protecting himself, rather than tryingto match a larger adversary blow for blow. “Do you want to fly airplanes, David?” I asked him. “Yea, Mom.” “Then protect your head and your face, honey.” But not all dangers are the same. Some are completely unexpected. Ijust couldn’t prepare my children for everything. In late spring, David and Katie came home happy for a change. Theyasked me if they could ride their bicycles. “Ok,” I said, “but stay close tohome. The roads are a bit busy right now.” Soon they rushed into the kitchen. “Some of the older kids are atRandy Wilson’s house. Look, he shot me!” “How did he do that?” I said. I checked the small wound on his leg. “They were yelling at us. Randy went inside his house. He got a pelletgun. He hid behind his trees. I thought he was going to shoot me and Iremembered about protecting my head and my face. I was trying to rideaway and he shot me.”
“Bullies” 26byNancy Knight I felt sick. My stomach was upset and I rushed upstairs for anImodium. What if they’d hit him in an eye? What kind of a place is this? Iwanted to scream. “Who was there?” I asked him when I came back downstairs. “Randy Wilson was there, Mom. So was Jerry Woolcott and LukeCarellia,” he said. I called the school. Barbara Mackenzie said she’d handle it as an afterschool incident. “Leave it with me,” she said. I bet, I thought. I called thepolice. About two hours later, an officer was sitting at our kitchen tablelooking at the wound on David’s leg. He asked David who was involved.When David told him that Randy Wilson had shot him, the officer frowned.He looked at the wound again. “That doesn’t look like a pellet gun injury tome,” he said. I assured him it was. “I believe my son,” I said. “Listen,” he said, “Mr. Wilson is a member of the emergency responseteam here in Kilbride. I could be helping out at a fire with him and otherguys from this community. I’m not going to say a word about this one.” Hegot up and left. I kept David home from school the next day and took him to ourdoctor’s office in Burlington. “What does that look like?” I asked him. “It looks like a wound caused by a projectile travelling at highvelocity,” he told me. “Like a pellet gun injury?” I asked. “Yes, but listen, you’ve probably done all you can about this,” he said. When we returned home, I called the school. Mrs. Mackenzie said shewas looking into it. Empty words, I thought. Is this really all I can do? I was angry. I’m not going to wait for you any more, I thought as Ihung up and reached for the police department phone number again.Another police officer was at our door a couple of hours later. “That looks like a pellet gun wound,” he said. He furrowed hisforehead and tensed his jaw. “Who did this?” he asked David. Minutes laterhe left for Randy’s house and was back in our kitchen about an hour afterthat. “Mr. Wilson says there’s never been a pellet gun in his house andRandy said he was just hiding in the trees and having a pee.” “Is that all you can do about this?” I stared at him. “Those boys havebeen harassing my son for months and now they’re turning ourneighbourhood into a duck shoot, and now you’re telling me this is all youcan do?” I wiped tears off of my cheeks.
“Bullies” 27byNancy Knight “Are you all right ma’am? Listen that’s all I can do. If there’sanything else wrong here though just let me know.” No you fool, I thought. But I was silent. It’s just that my poor child isgetting battered and no one will do a thing about it! After I had reluctantly sent David and Katie back to school, I phonedthe principal’s office to find out what they were planning to do. “We’re looking into it,” was all the vice-principal would say later whenshe returned my call.
“Bullies” 28byNancy Knight 5. ExcusesDavid and many of his classmates were eleven years old and still very small.But class 6-7 was a split class, which meant that though David was in gradesix, he would be together with some of the older grade seven students whohad been bullying him the year before. At least one of the boys who hadbeen there when David was shot with the pellet gun was in that class, too. News of the pellet gun incident was spreading. The local childrenweren’t as interested in the fact that David was shot as they were about thefact that we had called the police. Most of the intermediate and seniorstudents were already fiercely taunting David about “calling the cops”. Well,the school wasn’t doing anything to address the problem; I thought when Iheard about the rumour from a little fellow in grade four. Michael and I had been trying to figure out why we weren’t getting aresponse to our concerns. I looked through the Kilbride School Handbook.Its instructions were clear. Parents were to mention any problems orconcerns to the teacher first, and then, if the issue was not resolved, theywere to inform the principal. There were no further instructions that told uswhat to do if the school administration didn’t solve the problem. Maybe weshould solicit the teacher’s help early, Michael and I agreed. We prepared aletter for him and tried to make it as clear and complete as we could. Wewanted to discuss David’s academic challenges as well as the peeraggression issue. Our meeting with David’s new teacher, Mr. O’Leary, was on the sameday as Katie’s tenth birthday. We would rush into town after the meeting tobuy a birthday cake in time for a late dinner. We handed Mr. O’Leary theletter. He read it carefully. “...Peer harassment – This is particularly worrisome to David. Itgreatly affects the quality of his school work. Please document cases ofphysical harassment so that we can take any steps necessary to solve it...” We gave Mr. O’Leary some literature about helping David in theclassroom. “I’ve got at least four other kids like this in the class,” he said.“Have you mentioned this to school administration?” he asked us. “Yes,” we both said. “You should mention it again,” he added as he arranged the notes wegave him into a neat pile.
“Bullies” 29byNancy Knight Soon, David came home with some news. “Mr. Hampton’s going toget a rifle, Mom.” He didn’t often use that tiny little voice of his those daysbut right then he was sounding like a toddler. Why on earth would David beaware of that? I wondered. “I heard him talking on the telephone. He asked someone when theywere going to deliver his rifle,” David said. He picked at his lip. “It’s hunting season now honey. Maybe he’s going hunting.” Davidstopped picking at his lip and took a sip of his juice. After David and Katie went off to school, I turned on the radio. Therehad been a shooting at a school just a few miles away. A young man hadwalked into a secondary school and shot a teacher and a vice-principal. Itseems that someone else has gone hunting, too, I thought. I called Kilbrideschool. When Mr. Harris, the Resource teacher, answered, I was surprised.“Mr. Harris, I just wondered if you’d heard the news today. There’s been aschool shooting. I wanted to let Mr. Hampton know.” “Oh dear. Thanks Mrs. Knight. John isn’t here. He’s away on a retreatbut I’ll contact him and let him know. I’m sure he’ll appreciate that.” “Listen, Mr. Harris,” I added, keeping my voice serious, “Davidoverheard Mr. Hampton talking on the telephone yesterday about thedelivery of a rifle. I don’t think it’s the sort of conversation the childrenshould be overhearing and given that David was shot with a pellet gun inJune, I think it worried him.” “I’ll check on that,” he said. “David’s been having a really rough time at school. The other studentsare picking on him. I think he’s getting more of the abuse than he deserves.Couldn’t you do something about it?” “I’ll check into that as well,” he said, “and I’ll get back to you if I findout more.” I hung up the phone disappointed. He had given me the standardanswer anyone at the school I spoke to always gave me. Is it their way ofdismissing a concerned parent? I wondered. I decided to try talking toBarbara Mackenzie again. It was much easier to walk over to the school, rather than leave amessage with the secretary and risk the call not being returned, so I hadmany in the hall meetings with the school’s administrators. “David’s stillgetting picked on during lunch and recess,” I said. “Now listen Barbara, youand John are telling me that there’s zero tolerance for fighting, but you’renot doing much about all the abuse David’s getting. Why are things sodifficult on that playground?”
“Bullies” 30byNancy Knight She spoke in a whisper, “There’s just not enough supervision and notenough money to hire anyone for the job.” “Then I’ll come and help,” I said. “My eyesight isn’t that great, but I’lltry.” I imagined myself coming to the rescue of a suffering schoolyard,somehow able to arrest the raging tide of violence. Soon, I was helping out at the school as a volunteer lunch supervisor.I helped in the classrooms, in the halls, and on the playground, almost everyday. I started to discover what was happening inside our public school. And Michael and I continued to try to get extra help for David. Weasked Barbara Mackenzie to flag David’s file. His report cards were reflectingthe difficulty he was having organizing his work. “David is progressing,” she explained, “His grades are acceptable.There’s no reason for extra help or identification.” “But he’s not reaching his potential. He’s a brighter child than hisgrades reflect,” I tried again with no success. We mentioned the abuseagain, too, but we knew we were on our own. I started searching for a tutor and decided to hire the girl next door.She was a bit older than David, and an excellent student. With her help,and the better notes he was taking with the laptop Mr. Barnett hadsuggested we buy the year before, David’s work started to improve. But theviolence on the playground did not. It was clear that the principal and vice-principal knew there wereproblems with student behaviour. One day, Mr. Hampton gave me twonewsletters. The articles inside were about the relationship between anabuser and his or her victim: The Cycle of Abuse. Another day, on theplayground, Mr. Hampton moaned, “You know, Mrs. Knight, there are someweeks when at least one hundred students are sent to my office.” Dayslater, he explained that some of the children were so difficult to handle thathe and other staff members were sent on a conflict resolution course tolearn how to deal with them. “You’ll soon get to know the few children whocause the most trouble,” he said. I already knew who some of them werebecause they’d been hurting David. Later, the principal explained, “Mrs. Knight, as employees of the boardwe are required to maintain the strictest confidence about everythingconcerning the school and the children within it. Though this officiallyapplies to employees only, I would request that, as a volunteer, youmaintain the same standards.” “The only way to survive around here is to keep your mouth shut,” PatHunter told me later as we supervised the playground together. I wasslowly getting the message. Everyone knew that there were children at the
“Bullies” 31byNancy Knightschool who were troubled and dangerous but no one was supposed to talkabout them. My first experiences on the playground were harrowing. There wereseveral fights during each lunch hour, with accompanying injuries --usuallycaused by the same students day after day. That playground wasn’tanything like the playground scenes I remembered from my childhood. In all my years attending public school, I never once felt unsafe. I wasshy, yet I always felt welcome on the playground. The games we playedwere inclusive. They required co-operation and teamwork. We quickly and efficiently learned games, songs, crafts—andbehaviour--from each other. There was a communications web of currentevents and safety warnings, sometimes brutally accurate, sometimeshorrifically wrong: Dirty Joe was hanging out in the alleyway behind theschool; don’t kiss anyone with a cold sore; a little girl was killed when shetripped and fell under a bus, so be careful; and if you eat too many applesyou’ll throw up. The city-wide newspaper couldn’t have done a better job. Misinformation, prejudice, fear, and hate also swirled around a schoolunder the radar of adults who, I suspect, may have been the source of muchof it. Those were dangerous times for gay teachers, d.p.’s, yips, krauts,ukes and niggers. Adult debates, repeated through children’s mouths, couldspread like an insidious and unchecked evil. Without the benefit of objectiveand rational information and debate, we learned about fear and loathing asrapidly as the games we played. Though mostly unaware of these youthful communications, ourteachers seemed to be constantly present, a reassuring and clear reminderthat we should behave. A child who misbehaved would find himself orherself carrying a note home which had to be signed and brought back tothe teacher. Our parents were willing to back the teacher up every time.Our teachers treated us with respect. Not once was I ever spoken to rudelyor in a way that made me uncomfortable. Later, as we got older, there were many incentives for good behaviour.A happy teacher often organized extra privileges, and special excursions.These privileges were withdrawn and cancelled at a moment’s notice ifbehaviour was not up to expectations—for the entire class. Peer pressure tobehave could be very powerful when an interesting day away from theclassroom was at stake. At Kilbride School, everything seemed so different. School just wasn’tas nice as it used to be. No wonder David’s having such a difficult time, I
“Bullies” 32byNancy Knightthought as I walked around the playground. Surely there must be someway to deal with the few individuals who are causing so much turmoil andhurt, I considered. The next time I found John Hampton and Barbara Mackenzie togetherin the principal’s office, I asked them if I could speak with them. “I’mconcerned. Such a small group of students really are causing much of thetrouble on the playground,” I said. “Surely you know them, too. You mustknow it’s like a free for all out there every recess. There must be somethingthat will help.” John Hampton became agitated. “Mrs. Knight, what do you mean?” “I’m concerned about the level of aggression on the playground and Iwant to know what’s being done and what can be done to stop it,” I said. “Mrs. Knight, why are you here?” he growled and then added, “Whydon’t you just leave?” John’s candidness during our earlier conversations haddisappeared. I started to cry as I left the office and walked home. Later that day, John phoned to apologize and ask me to go back tohelp. It took me a week. My stomach was upset whenever I started to thinkabout heading over to the school and I had to take a couple of Imodium tosettle it before I could leave the house. It wasn’t long before I went to the principal again. Desperate to stopthe bullying, I pleaded for any help available. I wasn’t really surprised at hisanswer. “Mrs. Knight,” he said in his most knowledgeable teaching voice, “I livein a home that was built years ago by my parents in a farming communitysimilar to this one. Whenever someone new moves into a home that hadbeen inhabited for years by one of the families that first farmed the land,local people still refer to that house as the McArthur’s place, or the Kramer’splace. It is very difficult to meld into a small, rural community like this one.” I tried again with Mr. Harris, the resource teacher I had talked toabout the rifle. “Katie’s okay. Her best friend is here with her from theirprevious school. David’s met two friends from outside of the community,but they’re all having a lot of trouble fitting in with the local kids, or rather,getting many of the local kids to stop bullying them. Is there anything youcan do?” I asked. “Yes actually, Mrs. Knight, I’m thinking of starting up a small socialgroup for the children who are new arrivals to the school. Leave it with meand I’ll get back to you.” Weeks later, I met Mr. Harris in the hallway again. “Any news aboutthat social group?” I asked him. He didn’t stop to talk. He just shook hishead and walked on.
“Bullies” 33byNancy Knight When I started hearing Tyler Harvey’s name, I realized that the newkids might not be the ones David needed as friends anyway. Tyler Harveywas one of those new arrivals. He was a short but well muscled fellow, andvery quick on his feet. He made a bold entry onto the scene by tackling theother boys at lunch. At first, Tyler didn’t have a good idea which studentswere easy targets and which ones to leave alone. Of course, the betterfighters immediately put Tyler in his place. This left just a few potentialvictims--including David, still one of the smallest boys in his class. TylerHarvey was assaulting David relentlessly every recess, tackling him frombehind, or diving head first into his stomach. “David, why don’t you ask Sensei Deluca to teach you some defensivemoves?” I suggested before his next karate lesson. “David’s not a punching bag,” Brian Deluca told us a few days later. “We know Brian, but the school won’t do anything.” I tried Mr. Hampton again. “David’s being picked on constantly.” “You know Mrs. Knight,” he replied, “My own son is also havingdifficulty at the school he attends. He has been taking medication which hasmade him gain weight. It’s worrying, I’m sure, that David is havingdifficulty making friends.” “He’s not having trouble making friends. He has two good friends inhis class. They’re the boys who go to brainers. It’s the local kids who arebeating him up and constantly harassing him.” But the principal was more interested in the term I used to describethe students who went off to their special classes. “Brainers?” he said,raising his eyebrows. “Yes, that’s what the children call the gifted students. The enrichmentclass has isolated those children from their peers. I’m surprised no one hasconsidered the repercussions whenever people, and children, are categorizedand separated from one another. David has befriended two of them. Whenthe three boys are together, they’re ostracized as a group, but when David’sby himself, he gets bullied.” The principal looked thoughtful for a momentand then he walked into his office and closed the door. At karate lessons, Brian taught David how to defend himself againstthe kicks and punches of daily playground activity. But soon I wasmentioning it to the vice-principal again. “Barbara, if this continues I’mgoing to have to give David permission to fight back,” I told her. “David would certainly not be allowed to hit anyone!” She wasactually quite right. Defensive manoeuvres would protect my son. Over time David became quite adept at raising a knee or an elbow tothwart the onward attack of a rushing Tyler Harvey whose own force was to
“Bullies” 34byNancy Knightbe the cause of his own injury. Tyler would eventually learn that David’sbones were a lot harder than he was. Sadly, Tyler would eventually look fora more vulnerable target. At the end of that school year his family movedaway. Unfortunately though, Tyler was only one small part of the problem. Mr. Hampton,” I said to the principal in my most assertive voice as hestood at his office door. He was a rather short man but looked taller in hisusual well-tailored suit and striped tie. “Surely there’s got to be some helpyou can offer my son. There’s no way he should be treated so horribly andno way these kids should be allowed to behave the way they’re behaving.Don’t you have something you can offer us?” John went to the large filing cabinet in the corner of his office andremoved one of the multi-layered requisition forms from the top of it. Hesat down at his desk and began filling it in. “Mary Lou Gibson will call you ina few days,” he said. Mary Lou Gibson was soon sitting at the kitchen table with me and wewere discussing my children. Her first advice was baffling. “Try letting hishair grow longer,” she told me one day, “and he should really stop wearingthose track pants. A nice pair of blue jeans would look much better on him.He needs to work on his tidiness, too. He often looks a bit dishevelled.” Assoon as we could, we went shopping and we began to fix our son. Strangeadvice though, I thought, since the other kids aren’t dressed that muchbetter.
“Bullies” 35byNancy Knight 6. ParentsFor a fledgling Parent Council, that first year, we were doing well. A fewwell-organized and knowledgeable moms had helped initiate the firstmeetings: red binders filled with information about parent councils, meetingprocedures, and copies of government and board policies and procedureswere included. We began to read up on Robert’s Rules of Order. The Parent Council meetings went well at first, but the objectionsstarted coming in: Why didn’t everyone get a red binder rather than just theparents who had signed up and put their names up for election? Themeetings were too formal and it was difficult to follow the Rules of Order.Besides, some said, why do we have to follow the rules the government hadset down for the councils anyway? Committees were formed. I had signed up for the Safe SchoolsCommittee and some of us had added a few touches to the school’s Code ofConduct to make it unique to our school community: we added the name ofthe town to the board’s already adequate document. Mary Lou soon told me that she’d be visiting David’s class once a weekto explain and emphasize the expected behaviour and the listedconsequences for behaviour that was unacceptable. “We’re hoping we canstop much of the harassment towards David by working with the wholeclass.” So the Code of Conduct leaflets were distributed to each studentand for about three or four weeks, once a week, Mary Lou spoke to theclass. But nothing changed for David and much of the abuse got worse. Ireported Stewart Martin’s behaviour. “Some of the other children are givingDavid a hard time, too,” I said to John. “What about the Code of Conduct?Doesn’t that mean anything?” Why’s he shaking his head? I wondered. The next Safe Schools meeting was held in the room at the back of thelibrary. There were several parents in attendance and later on, John andBarbara dropped in and stayed while we discussed the work we were doing.
“Bullies” 36byNancy Knight I spoke up. “I’d like to mention the amount of aggression and theinjuries that are happening on the playground. It’s getting worse over timeand I wonder if parents have any idea how difficult things are.” “Mrs. Knight, what on earth do you mean? There are no issuesconcerning aggression here!” John had raised his voice, his face was red.His forehead furrowed into an angry twist. “There certainly is a problem,” I persisted. “And I think it needs to beaddressed in some way. A few children at this school are causing majorproblems because of their unchecked behaviour.” I tried to stay relaxed andconfident. There was total silence in the room. I could hear the breathing ofthe other mothers. Not one spoke up. “All of the children in this school are doing just fine and I wouldappreciate it if you would be silent, right now!” he shouted at me. I glaredback at him as he and Barbara quickly left the room. I pleaded with Terry. Terry Noble was a paid lunch supervisor and atornado of energy and authority. “They don’t do anything about anything,”she often observed as she led another injured student into the school. “It’s like bringing the injured in from a war zone,” we both said to Johnone day. “Whenever I call parents to tell them about their children’s injuries,they usually ask me why I’m bothering them. They tell me injuries are justpart of a child’s life and we’re supposed to take care of it,” he explained. Barbara McKenzie had a similar view. “Parents are never home duringthe day and if I was to try to call for everything that happened, I’d be on thetelephone all evening,” she said. “Please Terry, if you come to one of our meetings and tell the othermoms just what’s going on here, maybe they’ll believe me. I can’t persuadeanyone as long as John and Barbara keep denying anything’s wrong!” The next meeting was the following week and Terry was there withme. “You know, the behaviour of the kids on the playground is atrocious. Itmay be difficult for you to understand how ordinarily nice children can be soaggressive at school but the behaviour has been allowed for so long, theyare all getting out of control,” she said. One week later, one of the moms joined me on the playground. “ButNancy, everything looks just fine to me,” she said.
“Bullies” 37byNancy Knight “Yes, on the surface it does, but every day there are fights andinjuries. We report the misbehaviour but no one does anything about it.The principal never gives out any consequences and the Code of Conduct isjust a joke.” She looked doubtful. Another day on the playground, I was talking to Katie’s math teacher.“The school’s administration never seems to do anything about theharassment and beatings David is getting,” I said to her. She didn’t say aword. “Mrs. Knight,” the principal spoke to me quietly soon after thecommittee meeting, “I do not like to be embarrassed in a public forum.” About the same time, the vice-principal saw me in the hall. “We’re notallowed to refer to the children in any way, especially in a public meeting,”she said. Still later, the principal spoke to me again. “Mrs. Knight, if we were toopenly refer to anything that occurred here at the school, or even alluded tothe fact that any situation may have happened, it could be understood, in asmall community like this, to be confirmation that a rumour is true. Wedon’t want to risk the reputations of our children, staff, or the school,” hetold me. “Then you have to deal with the problems on your own, but deal withthem,” I replied. “Why won’t they do anything?” I asked Mary Lou next time I saw her. “You know, some parents want some children to be expelled fromschool for every little thing,” Mary Lou replied. “We want the abuse to stop. Why won’t the principal do anything tohelp David? He accuses me of being negative every time I mention there’s aproblem. It’s like hitting a brick wall every time the subject of behaviourcomes up.” “Oh it’s just John,” Mary Lou explained with a toss of her head, “I’veworked with him for years and I pretty well know how to get to him. It’sjust that he doesn’t consider you part of the family!” During one lunch hour, after the halls emptied, I saw Terry standingnear the office door. There was a group of older boys huddled together inthe senior hallway near the science room. I could hear one of the kidssaying, “Maybe he won’t look like such a fag.”
“Bullies” 38byNancy Knight Terry rushed towards the group, angrily gesturing the kids towards thedoor and yelling, “Five on one isn’t fair!” The boys scattered, leaving Davidon the floor, shaking with fright. I hurried after Terry and gave David a hug.“Are you alright David?” I said. I asked him if he wanted to go home or washe ok to go outside. “I’m ok,” he said, “I’ll go outside.” On the way out, hetold me what had happened. The five boys surrounded David and pushed him to the floor. One ofthem took out the metal stud that was in his ear and tried to stick it intoDavid’s ear lobe while the other boys laughed and held David down. Terry walked outside with us. I looked for John so I could tell himwhat had happened but never saw him. “I told John what happened toDavid,” Terry said later that afternoon, “but I bet he doesn’t do anythingabout it. He never does.” She shook her head. Soon after that, things started happening in the change room next tothe gymnasium. Mrs. Ravemsberg was the gym teacher. Her energyseemed to vitalize the entire school. Her thick brown hair was often tied uphigh behind her head and, though she was not a tall young woman, thebobbing ponytail could be seen from all directions as she led her studentsaround the gymnasium or over the grounds of the school. The boys’ change room was a particularly dangerous place. Theyoung, female teacher rarely went inside. After class one day, one of theboys took David’s aerosol can of deodorant away from him. Another boyheld a cigarette lighter close to the spray and used it and the deodorant canas a flame thrower. One of the older students ran out of the room andcame back with the teacher. Mrs. Ravemsbirg asked David what had justhappened and David told the truth. The older boy stared at him and smiled.Mrs. Ravemsberg gave the boys a lecture about safety but David slowlyrealized he had been set up and was going to be accused of ratting on hisclassmates. Outside of school, at their karate and piano lessons, Katie and Daviddid well. None of the other children from the school who were the same ageattended Karate and the music lessons were individual sessions. We hopedthat outside of school, on the baseball team, the boys would get along. In early spring, the baseball practices started up again. That year, theleague was divided into the ‘A’ team and the ‘B’ team which was unofficially
“Bullies” 39byNancy Knightdesignated the losing team. David was hoping that the pressure to winwould not be as great and that the weaker players would be given moreopportunities to try out the more exciting positions, like first base andpitcher, so David stayed on the ‘B’ team. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before we received a call one eveningbefore David got home from a practice. David was being picked on, one ofthe coaches said. He told us that during that evening’s practice, the boysteased, insulted and bashed David constantly. There was too muchnegativity, he told the other coaches. It had just become too much. Hepacked up and left in disgust and he took his son with him. He had offeredDavid a ride home but David wanted to stay. “The kids are allowed to dothe same at school,” the ex-coach told Michael. That was the last yearDavid wanted to play baseball. Yet it seemed that the children weren’t the only ones who were out ofcontrol. The early spring sun was starting to heat up the playground andduring one lunch hour the children had left their jackets inside the school.They seemed energized and excited about the freedom the light clothinggave them. I had reached the dome-shaped climber that stood like theskeleton of an ancient reptile on the far eastern edge of the field. I wasstanding close to the skeleton and facing towards the chain link perimeterfence as I distributed animal stickers to a group of boys. One of them, a young fellow with a mop of curly brown hair, sucked ina quick, gasping breath and stared wide-eyed at something behind me. Iturned around fast. A petite woman with blonde hair was walking away fromme in the direction of the school. A young boy walked along beside her.The woman’s hand was around the boy’s arm. I turned to the other boys.“Who is that?” I said. “It’s Mrs. Sutton! She’s got Steven! Is she allowed to grab him likethat?” one of the boys stammered. All of them were now nervouslybouncing around and staying closer to me. “No she’s not, but it’ll be all right. I’ll go see what’s up. You guys stayhere and stay together!” I said. I followed Mrs. Sutton and Steven. “That’snot your child you know!’ I called after her.
“Bullies” 40byNancy Knight “No one else does anything around here!” she shrieked. She was toofar away by then for me to catch up before she disappeared into the crowdof children near the school. I was walking right towards Pat Hunter who was standing, as sheusually did, near the edge of the blacktop. “What on earth happened, Pat?Why was Mrs. Sutton dragging Steven off like that? Do you know where shewent with him?” I asked. “She was talking to me a minute ago. She’s mad as hell. She saysthe kids have been picking on her son and she’s getting fed up. ‘No one elsedoes anything,’ she said.” Pat rolled her eyes upwards. “Why did you let her loose?” I asked. I didn’t wait for an answer. Just as I took a few steps around Pat, Mrs. Mackenzie came towardsme. “What happened?” she pleaded. “Barbara, Mrs. Sutton just assaulted Steven. The other children arereally upset. Pat tells me she let her go over to the boys!” I explainedrapidly. No one said another word. That evening though, Steven’s mom,Linda, phoned me. She had my phone number from the baseball team’scontact list. She spoke in a gentle but quivering voice. “Hi Nancy, it’s Lindahere,” she began politely. “Do you know anything about what happened toSteven today? We’ve phoned the school but they won’t tell us a thing. Mrs.Sutton’s nails have punctured his skin.” I told her everything. “The school probably won’t do anything,” I toldher. “We’re going to call the police right now,” Linda said. When I walked past the principal’s office the next day, he called to me,“Mrs. Knight, could you please come in for a moment?” I went into his officeand watched him close the door. I didn’t sit down. “I’m wondering if youwould be so kind as to fill this police report in for us, please.” I tried not toglare at him.
“Bullies” 41byNancy Knight “Yes certainly. I’ll return it tomorrow,” I said. That evening I calledLinda. “I’m assuming the police are laying charges because I’ve been givena report. I’ll fill it out and return it to the school tomorrow,” I told her. “Thank you very much, Nancy. I’d appreciate it if you kept this quiet.” “Yes, of course,” I said. I wondered why the news of our call to thepolice about the pellet gun had spread so quickly. Of course, I thought,those boys and their parents wouldn’t have kept any confidences. “Wouldthe principal tell you anything?” I asked. “Pat Hunter saw more than I did.They may have found out more from her.” “I spoke to John again this morning. He wouldn’t say a thing. Theynever do. We had to ask the police to lay charges. Thanks to yourinformation, we could get something done ourselves,” she said. I received a Subpoena to Appear form a few months later. Almost ayear after Mrs. Sutton walked onto the playground, Michael and I weresitting in the Burlington court house with Steven’s parents, Linda andRichard. We listened to Mrs. Sutton plead guilty to assaulting Steven on theplayground and later, as we drank our coffee at the nearby Tim Horton’s, wewondered why the school administration was so remiss in taking action. In a way, I agreed with the judge who had told the quiet courtroomthat adults should let children solve their own disagreements and that adultscan often make things worse. But children do not have the same moral and ethical restraints on theirbehaviour and I’d often seen minor disagreements escalate into injuriousbattles. I puzzled for a while about where the fine line should be drawnbetween allowing our children to work things out for themselves, andprotecting them from each other.
“Bullies” 42byNancy KnightDear Parents, Our children will share a common experience while they are at schooltogether. For much of their day, they’ll be supervised by their teacher in awell-organized and disciplined classroom. They’ll also spend time on theplayground during lunch and recesses. Often, there will be as few as threeor four adults watching out for hundreds of children. During those unstructured times, our children will learn strategies thatthey’ll take with them into adulthood. In the best of all worlds, they’d learnpositive negotiating skills, co-operate, and be respectful of each other. Yetthe few adults on that playground will not be able to teach them how toaccomplish this. Whatever social skills they have will be learned while theyare with their families, while they’re watching television, or, more likely,from each other. It doesn’t take long for children to learn that a quick shoveor a mean word can cause tears and earn an extra turn at the game. Ifthere are no adults to intervene, the behaviour reinforces itself. You need to know if your child is bullying mine. We’ll need to actquickly to stop it. But please understand how difficult it must be for me totell you that it’s happening. I’m hoping we can help them both. Perhaps,we can prevent a never-ending cycle of abuse. They might even becomefriends. We could gather support amongst the greater school community andconvince school administrators to take bullying seriously. We can set a goodexample by being respectful of each other at parent council meetings andwhen we meet up elsewhere. Let’s start early, and work together to makeour school a safe and happy place.Yours truly,Another parent
“Bullies” 43byNancy Knight
“Bullies” 44byNancy Knight 7. Little Mischief MakersIt is impossible for children to live and breathe in Kilbride, this place ofgentle prettiness, and not love the creatures that share their world. Deercome in the spring to nibble at the new growth on our conifers. They strollpast the vegetable garden to quench their thirst at the creek behind ourback woodlot. Male and female geese lead their tender little goslings fromthe small pond on the other side of the road, down our drive and around ourhouse to join the deer at the creek. In all directions there are horses grazing in the fields. Every spring, abreeder to the southwest of our property, sets out his mares and weeks laterthe children begin to count the leggy foals as they stumble after theirmothers’ milk. Katie had been adding “one horse” to her wish list to Santa for yearswithout success. Lowering her expectations, she pleaded with us for ridinglessons. Finally, we found a riding school we could afford and Katie waslearning to care for and ride the horses she loved. Ride Along Farm isadequate and casual. Katie spent much of her free time at the farm withpeople she felt comfortable with. At school however, except for Marina,friendships were much more difficult to foster. David was in Mr. Marcella’s Class 7-8 in 1996. I had sent in a notethe previous spring to request that placement because Stanley and Aaronhad asked David to make sure he was placed with them. But I had no wayof knowing who the other classmates were going to be. Schooladministrators were the only ones who would have that information. Still,they put Stewart Martin in that class, too. That autumn, all of the paid lunch supervisors were laid off. PatHunter continued to help, but all the others, including Terry Noble, weredismissed. It was a disaster. Three hundred and seventy-five studentswere on that enormous field for recesses and the lunch hour, with only twoor three adults. Mr. Hampton approached the Safe Schools committee for help. I wasstill working with the small group of moms. The group decided to appeal to
“Bullies” 45byNancy Knightparents and raised just enough money to pay for one lunch supervisor forthe remainder of the year. The supervisor the principal hired was a pleasant woman, but shedidn’t have the energy or the firm, no nonsense approach that Terry hadhad. And Pat Hunter, though often ready to yell warnings to the childrenabout not tattling on each other, hardly did anything else. The teachersoften simply walked around without intervening. With such low vision, Icouldn’t be of much help either. With so little supervision on the playgroundand in the school, the behaviour of the troubled students who werebothering David continued to worsen. David began to report the physical assaults to Mr. Hampton, theprincipal, by himself. These reports were to become more frequent as theyear progressed but the principal was less than sympathetic. “Mr. Hamptonlisten, this is getting ridiculous. David just does not feel safe on theplayground. Some of the kids are picking on him every time he walksoutside,” I told him one afternoon. He looked at me blankly, “Then why doesn’t he go home for lunch?” hereplied. Ok, that’s it, I told myself. We’re out of here! “David honey,” I said to him that evening, “I can’t get Mr. Hampton todo anything about the other kids hurting you at lunch. If you’d like to, I’llcome home every day so that you can come home, too. The food will bebetter that’s for sure.” I was not surprised when David said he’d rather beat home and that’s what we did. Katie decided to come home, too, andoften invited Marina and their other friends to join her. This arrangement worked well for a couple of weeks. Then theprincipal announced that there would be a chess tournament held inside theschool at every lunch hour. The students who wanted to join in would besorted into teams and the first, second, and third place winners would beannounced at the end of the month. David was excited. He liked playing chess. He went back to theschool for the lunch hour chess games. Katie and her friends wanted to stayat school for lunch, too. At the end of the month, David and his teamcaptured second place and David’s confidence was at an all time high.Within days of the final chess game however, I was mentioning the
“Bullies” 46byNancy Knightharassment again. “My kids shouldn’t have to miss out because you can’tstop a few troublemakers from picking on them!” I told the principal. I was sometimes surprised at how well David could remember thedetails. He was a natural story teller and his descriptions of what hadhappened to him and how he had felt were filled with clarity and theemotions of the moment. His eyes widened and bulged as he rememberedthe terror he felt, his brows slid towards one another with anger, sometimeshis face reddened with humiliation, and his hands and arms gestured as hedescribed the movements of others. If David was exaggerating, or making things up, he would have beenvery smart indeed to be so consistent and accurate over months and years.He was telling me the truth and I knew it. As well, I saw much of theviolence that happened to David and the other children because I was at theschool so often. By the time David was in grade seven, I was helping out onthe playground, in Mrs. Hennessey’s grade five class room and in the halls. “Mrs. Ravemsbirg yelled for everyone to hurry up and get ready forthe game,” David told me. I imagined that the mood in the boys’ changeroom was, as is usual with boys that age, filled with competitive tension.The boys were excited, laughing, joking around and jumpy, David told me.Some of them rushed to get ready and were already in the gym. Others,like David, had hidden themselves in the farthest corners of the changeroom trying to get ready without attracting attention from the older, rougherboys. When he was ready, David tried to sneak past Stewart who was takinghis time. David managed to get through the door and into the gym, butStewart rushed after him, grabbed his shoulder and swung him around. “You fag,” he growled as he pinned David against the wall so fastDavid’s head hit the painted concrete surface. Stewart pulled his fist backand then thrust it forward into David’s face. Blood oozed and then pouredout of David’s lower lip and down onto his white t-shirt. Stewart had beenable to attack David so often without repercussion by then that he hadn’teven taken the time to check for a teacher. Mrs. Ravemsbirg was there in a second. “Stewart Martin, stop rightnow!” she ordered. She turned her attention to David, and then back to
“Bullies” 47byNancy KnightStewart, “You get right down to the office. I’ll be there in one minute,” shecommanded. “Are you all right now?” I asked after David told me what hadhappened. The cut in his lip had stopped bleeding and would heal, but hisfeelings might not. I always felt the same sense of sadness, anger andfrustration I knew he felt. My feelings were raw and painful. There was nosense rushing to the phone and calling the school. I knew they wouldn’t tellme anything. “What happened to Stewart? Did they do anything this time?” “Yea Mom,” David grinned slightly but winced and moved his fingersup to his sore lip. “They suspended him for one day,” he said. “Thank goodness for that. Maybe he’ll leave you alone from now on.” I saw Mrs. Mackenzie and Mr. Hampton standing together in thesecretary’s office. “The position David’s in is untenable. Stewart Martin’sthe worst of them all. It’s imperative that you protect David.” The twoprincipals said they’d think about it and see what they could do. When Mr. Hampton stopped to talk to me later in the hall, I thought hewas going to tell me that he’d done something about Stewart Martin—talkedto his parents and arranged for some counselling or therapy for instance. “Apparently, David has been keeping medication in his locker whichsome of the students believe are drugs.” It was a statement rather than aquestion. “He hasn’t got any drugs. He brings one Ritalin pill to school everymorning and leaves it in his locker with his lunch so he can take it at noon.” “Medication is supposed to be kept in the office.” “Ok then,” I said, “let’s leave the pills in the office and he can ask youfor one every day. You can make sure you’re there to take care of it.”What’s that got to do with Stewart Martin and David’s split lip? I wondered. Stewart Martin struck again during Christmas vacation. We had setout early. The ski resort was a three hour drive north of Toronto and faraway from the trouble at school, we thought. David and Katie had been onthe slopes for just a couple of runs. They rushed into the chalet restaurantwhere Michael and I were sipping our coffees. “The Martin’s are here!”David pushed the words from his mouth as if they were painful. Katie stoodquietly beside him, wide-eyed and nodding, as David told the story.
“Bullies” 48byNancy Knight They met Stewart’s younger brother William on their first run andskied down the slope with him. Then Stewart joined them. Because Davidwas wearing a hat, a balaclava and ski goggles, Stewart didn’t recognize himat first. But soon Stewart realized it was David. Stewart followed David up the chair lift. He chased David down the hilland quickly caught up. He stabbed at the binding release on David’s ski withhis own ski pole. David tried to pick up speed but Stewart was too fast. Hepushed the binding release. David’s ski fell away from his boot, and thencaught in the snow. David stumbled. Stewart tore David’s goggles andbalaclava from his head but began to slide away. David managed to snaphis boot back into the binding. He raced down the slope to the resort’s mainbuilding. We wondered what to do. I asked David if he wanted to take a breakand try again later. He didn’t want to try again, he said. Michael and Idiscussed our options. We didn’t know Stewart’s parents and couldn’t havepicked them out from the multitudes of people there. The only thing wecould do was to leave. After the holidays, Trevor and Jason increased their attacks on David.The boys, who also lived in the village, had been picking on him for months.Years later, when I could look through the records that were released to ourlawyers, I realized that this was the first year Trevor, Jason, Stewart, andhis friends, were all in the same French class together. It hadn’t taken longfor Trevor and Jason to notice that David was the focus of the older boys’negative attention. Trevor and Jason had started calling David names likegay, fag, homo, woos, and loser, just as Stewart and his friends were doing. For many of the students, these words were all part of the dailylexicon of school life. Among accepted friends, the words were consideredgentle teasing. But for a child who was deliberately and overtly excludedand scorned, as David was, the words were insults of the most degradingkind. It wasn’t just the name calling that hurt. Word had spread that Davideither didn’t have, or didn’t deserve to have, friends. Stanley and Aaronwere outsiders and did nothing to boost David’s status. The friends Daviddidn’t have were the children of long-time local residents. They were theonly friends that counted.
“Bullies” 49byNancy Knight In the French class, Jason sat beside Trevor just behind David, andencouraged Trevor to be abusive to David. Jason constantly teased David,too, and asked David who his friends were. Then, in front of everyone else,he’d ask that student, “Are you really Dave Knight’s friend?” Jason began tofollow David around and observe David’s every conversation in order to findout who was talking to him. He’d spend his time criticizing that student for“being David’s friend”. David told me he didn’t blame his few friends for saying “no”. “Iwouldn’t want people thinking I was my friend either,” he told me. “These were two hate filled little boys,” David wrote later. “I couldnever look them in the eye because it scared me. All I saw was hate.” The abuse became part of David’s everyday existence. It eventuallyincluded our family and friends. Jason and Trevor made fun of my visualdisability; they made fun of our house; and they laughed when David toldthe teacher our dog had died. Every time he came home and told me aboutit, David’s eyes filled with tears and his breathing was ever so shallow, as ifhe was trying not to let the tears escape. A teacher or administrator would have had to be totally deaf not tohear the discriminatory banter that went on inside and outside theclassrooms and the school. As the year progressed, Mr. Marcelle mustsurely have had increasing difficulty with Trevor and Jason. As well, StewartMartin and his friends were already a major problem for David. According toDavid, the boys eventually spent the entire French class, and many of theothers, harassing him. Eventually, Mr. Marcelle made note of this, howeversubtly, on Jason’s report card: “...more work, less socializing.” Trevor wasalso having some difficulty in this class: “...participation & achievement haveimproved, more attention in class req’d.” Even if the boys’ parents couldhave realized what those obtuse comments meant, those report cards didn’tget sent out until June. By then, it was too late for David. The circle ofabuse and abusers was becoming larger. Over time, David began to dehumanize his villains just as they soughtto denigrate him. Later, in one of his many essays about what happened tohim, David described the boys this way: “Picture a really big and stupidvillain with his vicious pet dog as a sidekick, one incites and uses the otherto do his dirty work.”
“Bullies” 50byNancy Knight Why are they picking on him so mercilessly? I wondered. Surely theymust be subhuman to cause such undeserved pain. Throughout the year, the culture of abuse spread to even the mostscholarly and gentle of students. When David came home and told me thatGordon Garson had threatened him with the knife that was packed with hislunch, I was surprised. Gordon was a soft-spoken, young man with adiligent attitude towards his school work and the school’s rules. David hadbeen threatened by other students often enough to believe that it was nogame. He rushed down the hall to the office and told the principal. Gordon’sbehaviour had been threatening enough, but the reaction of the principalcertainly made things worse. The principal sent for Gordon. He sat bothboys down in the office. He made them face each other. “What did Gordon do?” I asked David later. “He said he was sorry and that he wouldn’t do it again. He was cryinghis eyes out.” “Well then honey, I think he really meant it. He’s a nice boy youknow. He probably won’t bother you again,” I wanted to sound reassuring. “But Mom, I was really scared. What if he beats me up for telling?” “After you saw him cry, did you think he might beat you up?” “But Mom, what if he does?” “If you think he’s going to hurt you, you have to go to the office againand tell the principal, ok?” “But Mom, I don’t want to tell anymore. What if I told on Stewart?What if the principal did that with me and Stewart?” “Listen honey, if you feel really scared, just come home, ok? Justleave the school and come home.”
“Bullies” 51byNancy Knight 8. Spreading the AbuseThe advertisement for the Air Cadets had taken up just a quarter of a pagein the program magazine we had purchased at the air show the previousJune. As soon as David saw it, he asked us if he could join. We phoned thenumber in the advertisement right away and David joined the group thatfall. Michael drove David into Burlington for the Monday evening meetings.David was given a uniform and taught how to care for it. He took this veryseriously. He learned how to iron his shirts and press his wool trouser legsinto sharp creases. Soon we were buying spray cans of laundry starch sothe collars on his shirts were stiff and smooth. We searched for the bestblack boot polish we could find. He tried melting the black wax onto theleather. He polished for hours. The Monday night meetings were endlessexercises of marching up and down the parking lot behind the building andlessons about the weather and the physics of flight. I saw how happy hewas when he came home from those meetings, and began to understandjust how much David wanted to be a pilot. One of the boys he knew from Air Cadets transferred to Kilbride Schooljust after that Christmas. David came home and told me how happy he wasthat someone he already knew and got along with was now in his class.David greeted his fellow cadet right away. “Don’t sit next to him, he’s a fag,” was soon the ongoing refrain. Thenew student watched day after day as the others taunted and insultedDavid. Within two weeks, the new boy was involved in the daily verbal andphysical assaults, too. I understood, when David told me about this, that the damage to hisself-esteem could be enormous. David was stoic, at least on the surface.Later though, his notes related the pain he was really feeling. For me, it wascrushing. What kind of mother am I? I continued to ask myself. When Iread his notes, I crumpled with sorrow. “I was a joke,” David wrote about himself later. “I couldn’t understandwhy. I was trying so hard to be nice. I was never once aggressive toward
“Bullies” 52byNancy Knightanyone. I just wanted people to like me. They must have seen that assome defect because none of them wanted to be near me. I asked myselfwhat was wrong with me. I tried everything to fit in but nothing worked. Iwas just an outsider.” Family time became so important and time with his dad even morespecial. David was very excited that Sunday, as he prepared to spend anafternoon with his dad. Michael was working long hours and it was a rareopportunity. After breakfast they put on warm winter clothing, packed thelong, silver toboggan into the car, and drove off down the road to the park. Lowville Park lies at the lowest section of the Bronte Creek Valleywhich cuts through the hilly rise of land upon which our tiny hamlet sits.The creek flows through the deepening valley. East of Lowville, the hilly riseand the valley flatten and disappear and the creek winds its way through thefields and then flows south to Lake Ontario. In Lowville Park, there is someflat ground on either side of the creek and within the valley walls. On thenorth side, the valley wall is steep and cliff-like. On the southern side of thecreek, though, there is a gently sloping hill that is perfect for tobogganing. Though we never knew exactly where Stewart Martin’s family lived, wedid know that the Martin home was above Lowville, somewhere on thesouthern escarpment. It was easy for Stewart to ride his bike or walk downthe hill to the park. That day, when David and Michael arrived at the snowcovered slope, Stewart and his friends were there, too. Stewart immediatelyapproached them. Yelling and cursing as loudly as he could, he followedDavid up and down the hill. Michael tried to appeal to the young fellow’ssense of fairness. Using all the British politeness he could muster, hesuggested that Stewart and his friends use one end of the hill, while Michaeland David stayed at the other. Other students from the school, and their parents, were also trying toenjoy a day outdoors but were subjected to the ongoing, very loud andoffensive banter. One of the younger Kilbride students and his dad saw thetroubling encounter. Thoroughly disgusted with this demonstration ofdisrespect, the other dad offered Michael his support. “It all starts by lettingthe children get away with this sort of behaviour at the school,” he toldMichael.
“Bullies” 53byNancy Knight Stewart continued to follow Michael and David everywhere they went.Stewart swore at them constantly. He blew his cigarette smoke directly intotheir faces. Michael and David gave up. They had had enough and Michaelfinally realized how difficult David’s life at school had been. Michael went over to the school and mentioned the incident to Mr.Hampton. We talked about it when he got home. “I told him aboutyesterday’s incident,” Michael said, “just to make sure he knows this is anongoing problem and that Stewart’s giving David a hard time at school, too.” “He won’t do anything about it,” I said. A couple of days later, I found Mr. Hampton in the hall. “Mr. Hampton,how can you let Stewart Martin cause the trouble he’s causing? And some ofthe others are getting worse, too. How can you let these kids keep hurtingeach other? And David, well, he’s getting the worst of it,” I told him as helooked nervously around the hall. “Mrs. Knight, why don’t you enrol David in another school?” “I can’t do that. You know my vision is bad and I can’t drive. I’ve gotno way of getting my kids to another school!” Mr. Hampton nodded hishead and walked away. I’m going to fix this, I told myself, I’m going tofigure out how this organization works and fix this. It took me weeks of searching. “Hello, I’m looking for informationabout how to help my son at school. The school won’t do anything,” I toldone person after another. Finally, I found out what I needed to do. I had it:An association for children with learning disabilities. “Send the school a letter. Ask for an Identification, Placement andReview Committee meeting,” the literature they sent to me said. Whyhadn’t anyone at the school told me about this? It’s not as if we hadn’tasked for help often enough. A representative from the board of education was there. Theprincipals, David’s teachers, and Mary Lou Gibson, were seated around alarge table in the school’s resource room. Everyone there spoke on David’sbehalf. Michael and I explained that we had professional advice that Davidhad a learning disability, and that it was probably connected with his ADHD.We said we were not confident that he was performing to his aptitudedespite his best efforts. We mentioned the difficulty he was having withsome of his peers.
“Bullies” 54byNancy Knight Then, the man from the board of education told us what help would begiven to our son. I carefully picked out the main points: David’s file wouldbe flagged for special attention. He would get the help he needed. “It’sremarkable that David’s file hadn’t been flagged much earlier,” the man fromthe board office said. A few days later, Mr. Hampton approached me as I walked across theasphalt surface behind the school. “Mrs. Knight,” he said, “the school administration and staff havedecided that lunch volunteers will no longer be needed.” “Really? Ok, that’s fine,” I said. “I’ll just have to catch up on mygardening.” As I passed through the main foyer of the school on my way home Istopped at the long table near the front doors and shuffled through thevarious pamphlets, newsletters and board literature that had been sortedinto neat piles. Though my low vision prevented me from reading much ofit, one pamphlet with large printing on its cover caught my attention. That’sstrange, I thought, here’s a pamphlet from the board that says lunchtimeand hall supervision volunteers are needed everywhere in the region. I phoned the number on the pamphlet. “Are you recruiting volunteersto perform lunch and hallway supervision in your schools? The principal atmy children’s school has just told me that the school no longer needsvolunteers.” “Were you doing a good job at your children’s school?” he asked me. “Yes, I’m sure I was. I mean, the children seemed to appreciate mebeing there.” “Well then, you go right back to the school and continue helping outfor as long as you want to. We’re really proud and appreciative of ourvolunteers,” he said. I went back to the school for lunch. I didn’t see Mr. Hampton duringthe entire hour. There were some new additions to the playground,however. Several older ladies I had never seen before were there. I wentup to two of the new volunteers and introduced myself. “The board office sent us. We’re here for a few days and then we’reoff to another school next week. We’re glad to help.”
“Bullies” 55byNancy Knight A week or so later, there was an accident in the intermediate hall. Ihad no proof, but I suspected Jim Connelly was the cause of it. Jim hadbeen punching his way through the hallways for months and was fastbecoming one of the biggest problems in the school. He was able to punchwhomever he pleased while miraculously avoiding detection. The teachersnever once caught him. Once Jim reached puberty, he rapidly grew tall andslender. He was over six feet tall while all the other students around himwere much smaller. He kept his punches low, aiming for lower backs incrowded spaces. Jim repeatedly punched one student after another. Heforced others to get out of his way as students crowded the busy hallway. Jim’s friend, a smaller and weaker fellow, often stood beside him,holding Jim’s can of pop or his books, while Jim poked leisurely andcarelessly through their shared locker. Then, when he was ready, Jim wouldleave his friend to tidy up his mess. Some of the boys started to avoid Jim.They loitered in the classroom until he was gone or the teacher noticed themand shooed them out into the frenzied hall. It was just such a chaotic scene the day I was standing near the musicroom door. My presence was supposed to promote calm and decorum butrarely had any effect. The teachers weren’t much help either. Most days,they were standing at their classroom doors, but, they were usually talkingto each other or to students who needed extra help. The principal, too,seemed incapable of recognizing or doing something about the chaos. Mymany reports about Jim’s behaviour and the crowding and confusion in thehall were all ignored. That day, when David fell, the students were, as usual, crowdedshoulder to shoulder in front of their lockers trying to put on winter clothing.Jim was just ahead of me on the opposite side of the hall. I saw a leg swingoutward, just as David came alongside me from behind. I watchedhelplessly, as he lunged forward and fell onto the floor. He lay there for amoment. I stood staring at him. My legs wouldn’t move for me. “Everyone stay still!” I yelled. I wanted to halt the inevitable rush asthe students got ready and bolted for the doors. Mr. Marcelle went to David and checked to see if he was alright. Hehelped David sit up while I made sure the other students did not startrushing around, or over, him. Then David was on his feet once again. When
“Bullies” 56byNancy Knighthe was safely out of the way, one of the teachers sent the other studentsoutside. When I was sure he was ok, I went to the principal and told himthat this time he needed to make sure he did something. A few days later, the teachers changed the hallway routine. Theystaggered the times they dismissed their classes so that only half thenumber of students were in the hallway at one time. Unfortunately, thatdidn’t stop Jim Connelly. Weeks later, one of the more easy going studentsgot fed up with Jim’s continual assaults. He took a swing back. Jimpunched the boy in the head and sent him tumbling to the ground. I let theinjured and embarrassed victim lean on me as I led him into the school tosee the nurse. Then, I reported the incident to the principal. Jim wasn’t atschool the next day. But one day after that, he was back as mean as ever. Jim may have been mean, but Stewart Martin was beginning tofrighten me. He came up to me on the playground during lunch. Thissurprised me. I had never once encountered Stewart on the playgroundbefore that day. But there he was, a tall, stocky, muscular young man. Hewas staring right at me. Two friends stood by his side, smiling at him and occasionally glaringat me. He asked me if I wanted him “to toughen up” my son. I sensed thatStewart was expecting at least a weak retort on my part so that he coulddemonstrate his bravado to the others. He seemed to be waiting. I knewthat anything I said would be fuel for his performance. I wondered if I wasable to hide the fear and anger that I felt as I walked away. I consideredgoing to Mr. Hampton. A useless effort, I decided.
“Bullies” 57byNancy Knight 9. Protecting WhoIn the spring, when the weather got warmer, the children started lookingforward to summer freedom. The teachers tried hard to keep theminterested in their school work. They introduced exciting and new activities. Weeks earlier, the announcement had been made for the upcomingScience Fair. Students were invited to create a science project. Theseprojects were displayed in the school gymnasium and the other studentswere allowed to visit and view them. David decided to build a pendulum out of balsa wood. Soon, he wasstanding in the gym beside his project. Trevor rushed over to it. He startedswinging the pendulum as hard as he could. David asked him to stop.“We’re allowed to touch whatever we want!” Trevor said. He hit thependulum, hard, and snapped its base. “What did you do?” I asked David later at home. “I told the teacher and he made Trevor go back to class,” David toldme. Despite everything, David never gave up trying to make friends.Usually cheerful and outgoing, he often said a quick hello to other studentswho he thought might be receptive to having a new friend. But withinminutes of saying hello to one young fellow, David knew he’d made amistake. The boy was furious. He ran towards David. David immediatelybolted to another area of the playground. Moments later, he was helping some of the junior children with theirgame of soccer baseball when he noticed the boy he’d encountered earlier,approaching. Stewart Martin was standing nearby, glaring at David. Thetwo boys looked very much alike. David knew instantly that the smallerfellow was Stewart’s younger brother. On cue from Stewart, the youngerchild raced towards David, ready to plough right into him with all his force.David stepped away and thrust his leg out to the side at the last minute.The young boy tripped and fell. Stewart moved towards David.
“Bullies” 58byNancy Knight “Hey Stewart, I was just defending myself,” David repeated severaltimes as he backed away. Stewart kept moving. Realizing his pleas weredoing no good, David started running as fast as he could. Stewart sooncaught up and pushed David down. His shoulder scraped against the hardground. As if David’s injured shoulder wasn’t enough, whenever Stewart sawDavid later in the hall, Stewart kept saying, “I never want to see that again.”Later in the day, he changed his taunts to constant threats. “I’m going topunch you right in your face.” “He never stops Mom,” David told me. A day later, Stewart was sitting behind David in math class and threwerasers at him throughout the entire class. “I heard what you said,” herepeated constantly, even though David hadn’t said a thing. When David took a photo card to school and was standing on theplayground looking at it, Stewart decided he wanted it. He grabbed Davidand pushed him down as he tried to steal the card out of David’s hands. Stewart was also always the most hurtful and dangerous of all the kidson the bus rides down to the city for Design and Technology classes. Duringthe twice-weekly journey, he spent much of the time spitting. He threwblocks of wood or calculators stolen from the school, out the windows and atpassing cars. One day, Stewart pushed David’s head hard against the bus window.The bus driver had had enough. He went to the principal. A few days later,David figured out that Stewart was left behind at the school every Designand Tech day after that. David was not Stewart’s only target. That week, Sylvia Taylor told methat Stewart had been harassing Marina, her daughter, for months. “He’sbeen picking on David, too,” I told her, “but Mr. Hampton refuses to followthe Code of Conduct so nothing’s getting any better.” “Well I’m going to tell Mr. Hampton what I think about him,” she saidas she headed for the office door. Mrs. Parker came up to me on the school parking lot. “Stewart’s beencalling Emma names on the bus ride home. Yesterday, he pushed her to theground after they got off the bus. I’ve had enough. I’m going to let Mr.
“Bullies” 59byNancy KnightHampton know I’m not happy about any of this,” she said. I watched herwalk towards the doors leading to the principal’s office. It amazed Michael and me that even though school administration andstaff behaved in a professional way, ultimately, they were alwaysuncooperative. No one would openly acknowledge what was happening toDavid or who the perpetrators were, even when David told them. Theyrefused to have a meaningful conversation with us about what should bedone. School administration could duck and evade. They were silent andpolite or openly hostile. After I had spoken to the principal several times, hebecame clearly dismissive. Yet the teachers and the principals certainly knew it was happening. Iknew they saw it and we told them about it, repeatedly. If you don’tacknowledge a problem—how do you fix it? I often wondered. Over time, we saw no improvement in how David was being treated.Stewart and the other boys were still allowed back into the school no matterwhat they did. The harassment was affecting Katie again. Trevor and Jasonwere starting to harass her. When I asked Mr. Hampton for help for Katie,he seemed eager and Mary Lou Gibson started meeting with her. Yet therewere never any repercussions for the boys. The teachers seemed to hold the administration accountable for thebehaviour of the children. They often told me that they sent their studentsto the office for discipline, only to have them sent back to their classroomswith no consequences or counselling. The principal was supposed to be providing the consequences formisbehaviour according to the Code of Conduct, yet I wondered if he wassimply referring the problems to Mary Lou Gibson. I suspected that MaryLou had been individually counselling all of the boys most troublesome toDavid and Katie, but with no significant improvement in their behaviour. Ifrequently saw one child after another, walking in or out of the room whereMary Loud met with them. Who is monitoring the effectiveness of MaryLou’s efforts? I wondered. How is she managing to counsel the bullies, whileat the same time, trying to offer support and encouragement to mychildren? And who was deciding which children were in need of counselling?One of the teachers had some words to say about the vice-principal’s
“Bullies” 60byNancy Knightpenchant for diagnosing the children herself, rather than seeking moreprofessional help. “She told me there was nothing wrong with my son,” thegrade five teacher said to me, “based on a test she gave him and analyzedherself. I knew she was wrong. I had to enrol him in another public school.They had him tested by a psychologist and found out he had a learningdisability.” “She did the same thing to us. Too bad I couldn’t get David to anotherschool,” I moaned. So, how could we deal with this lack of action, as parents or as aschool? I thought. Discussions about behaviour or discipline were notallowed at Parent Council meetings we discovered one evening when aconcerned parent tried to mention the behaviour of the children. “Mychildren attend this school, and the babysitter who takes care of themattends this school. She told me that she has seen children drinking beer onschool property during the lunch hours,” he announced to the meeting ofabout twenty parents and four staff. “I’ve done some checking of my ownand I found a pile of dozens of beer bottles on school property,” he added. “And WHO ARE YOU?” the principal yelled. “If you’ve got something tosay about this school, why don’t you come to my office and tell me aboutit?” The man’s face reddened as he sat down. We can’t discuss discipline or behaviour issues in private, specificallyor in general; and we can’t discuss them in public, specifically or in general.And then I realized that because the principal didn’t have to acknowledgeanything was wrong, he didn’t have to do anything about it. I had often asked the principal why he was not enforcing the Code ofConduct we parents had worked on so diligently. I was trying to convincehim that discipline could only create a better school. It was his obligation todo so. One day as I walked down the senior hallway, he stopped me andsaid, “Mrs. Knight, I want to explain something to you. If I were to enforcemany of the consequences listed in the Code of Conduct, I could find myselfin a very difficult position indeed. I could be sitting in my office on my sideof my desk with the perpetrator’s parents, their lawyer, and mysuperintendent on the other. It would be my obligation to defend myactions to all of them.” He paused. “And the parents of the victim would benowhere to be seen.”
“Bullies” 61byNancy Knight “We’d support you!” I said. I meant it. But he just shook his headand walked away. He doesn’t believe he’d have my support, I thought to myself. Inorder to take care of Stewart and to protect David, we have to prove to himthat we’ll stand behind his decision to act. He just needs our reassurancethat we’ll be there. I spent the next while trying to convince the principal that we were onhis side. I tried to support his suggestions and reaffirm his opinions. Ibelieved that, even though the principal didn’t acknowledge that anythingwas wrong, he did know what he was doing. I trusted him to do the rightthing. That spring, Mr. Barnett led a small group of children in a presentationof the play ‘Teen’. The evening was amazing: professional lighting,costumes, and makeup. It was a wonderful evening meant to boost theimage of the school and impress the parents. They spend a lot of time,effort, and money on this sort of thing. Public image must be prettyimportant, I thought. But why don’t they worry about the kids’ badbehaviour? Because, if they never have to acknowledge the problems, noone is going to find out about them, I figured. Because Mr. Marcelle was the homeroom teacher for class 7-8, theclass was always together in the French room for morning announcements.While the messages were being read over the intercom, David glanced atStewart. David told me later that he was trying to get an idea of Stewart’smood that day without being noticed. Stewart didn’t seem angry oragitated, David told me. The students moved on to their social sciences class and then movedagain to their math lesson. After math class, David stood up at his desk andstarted to pack up his books. “You know what? I hate this kid!” David heard someone pronounceloudly so that everyone else could hear. It was inevitable that all eyeswould be on the unfolding scene. Stewart punched David in his right arm.David looked behind him. Startled, he didn’t know what to do. In seconds,Stewart took two steps sideways and punched David twice in his left arm.David gripped the edge of his desk as he tried to recover from the pain.Stewart waited for a reaction. There was none. Instead, David hurried to
“Bullies” 62byNancy Knightpack up his books, quickly left the room, and, avoiding a visit to his locker,walked right home. When David arrived home, I immediately phoned the school. “We’lllook into it,” Mr. Hampton said. Then I phoned the police. “Have youphoned his parents?” the lady at the desk asked me. The sergeantsuggested I phone Stewart Martin’s father and speak to him. I found theirphone number in the directory and in a moment I was speaking to Mr.Martin. He was polite but didn’t seem to understand the extent of thedamage his son was causing. “Oh Stewart,” he started rather hesitantly, and then with a chummytone, “he’s always been a handful. We’ve always had our share of troublewith him. Now the younger ones, they’re a little easier to handle, and ofcourse our youngest is only a toddler now so she’s no trouble at all.” “Well look,” I submitted, “I have to tell you that he’s given David morethan his fair share of abuse and we’re really getting fed up. We’re reallythinking that we might have to call the police. I hope you’ll tell him thatwe’ve had enough and he’s got to stop.” “Listen,” he said as if confiding to a friend, “If you’re thinking of callingthe police, you probably should.” I took a deep breath. The last time we asked the police for help, thenews spread through the school so quickly, and David had borne much ofthe consequences. I had to weigh my confidence or lack of it, in the schoolwith my trust in the police, my concern for David’s safety, and his ability towithstand more teasing if news got around that we had called the policeagain. I had to protect my son. Within minutes, I was talking to thesergeant at the police station again. I told her that I had spoken to Mr.Martin and he had not been much help except to convince me that he didnot have any idea about how to deal with his son. An hour later there was an officer sitting at our kitchen table and wewere explaining the frustration and anguish we had all been dealing withduring the past three years. “David is being harassed. Can you chargeStewart with harassment?” we asked. “Harassment is difficult to prove,” the police officer said, “but we cando something about this.” After David and Michael finished filling out the
“Bullies” 63byNancy Knightpolice report forms, Michael to explain his encounter with Stewart at LowvillePark earlier in the year and David to explain that, as well as that day’sassault, there had been many others. The officer took photographs of thethree bruises on David’s arms. “I’m going to be heading to Stewart’s house right now,” he said. “Ithink I’ll put a pair of handcuffs on the kid and drag him off to the station.Maybe that’ll shake him up. And tomorrow I’m going over to the school andtaking a look at what’s in his school records. Then we can give the wholebatch of it to the Crown Attorney.” Michael and I went to see the principal. We described David’s bruises.We told him what David had told us. We asked him what he was going to doabout it. He listened but would not say a word. His face wasexpressionless, unresponsive to our hurt. We waited. “Well, I’ll tell you what we’re doing. We’ve called the police. We’reprepared to lay charges against Stewart. This has got to stop.” The principal moved and stiffened ever so slightly. His mood seemedto change. He looked as if he knew something that we did not, and yet wasunprepared to tell us. I thought he seemed relieved that we were actuallyprepared to do something. Fine for him, I thought. We do all the work the hard way and he getsaway with not doing his job! The officer called us back. He told us that he had gone to the schooland obtained copies of Stewart’s file. “That kid has been nothing but troublefor us,” he said. Stewart continued to attend the school. “Mom, he’s still there!” Davidtold me every day. We waited for more information but didn’t hear a thing. Stewartcontinued to attend the school for another three weeks. Then, he wasgone. He disappeared for the remainder of the year. We heard rumoursthat he had gone to another school. Who else is he going to hurt? Iwondered at the thought of Stewart at another school with unresolvedbehavioural issues. Because Stewart had been in grade eight, we knew hewould be attending high school the following year, but we had no way ofknowing which high school he would be attending. But David would be ingrade eight and we hoped we would have one peaceful year.
“Bullies” 64byNancy Knight Later Michael went to the school to meet David. He waited for him inthe main hallway near the library. Mr. Porter and Mr. Harris saw him andstopped to talk. “Thank goodness somebody was prepared to dosomething,” they told Michael. 10. Real BulliesAs David’s suffering increased, his notes about what was happening and howhe felt, grew longer. “For once, I felt like something had finally been doneto help me. Unfortunately, having the police involved just opened up a newavenue of abuse toward me. The kids in my class would insult and playcruel jokes on me and then say, ‘Oh, we better stop or he might presscharges on me.’’ It made me feel even more isolated. I was so small. Theabuse was so widespread that even the two smart guys who I had managedto make friends with began keeping their distance. Anyone who wasanywhere near me, got just as bad. Everyone either had to hate me or bebullied as well. I was terrified.” I was terrified, too, and feeling very confused. Was asking the policeto help, the right thing to do? I wondered. Why had I been forced to callthem? Wasn’t that the school’s responsibility? Years later, the judge who presided over our pre-trial hearing wouldsay, “The professionals responsible for the children were the only peoplewho knew the children, witnessed the interactions between them, and werethere to intervene.” What sort of dynamic could be causing so much pain in one child’slife? we asked ourselves as David began his grade eight year. We had noidea. We knew nothing about bullying. Some suggestions were offered: David stopped using the laptopexcept for science class. It may have been causing the negative attention.Instead, his teacher, Mrs. Simpson, helped him organize and write his notes.The school also tried limiting his participation in activities which might drawnegative attention to him. I wondered about the wisdom of protecting Davidby restricting his activities rather than addressing the bullies’ behaviour.
“Bullies” 65byNancy Knight Of course, none of these changes helped. Things actually got worse.That year, several incidents happened that would almost certainly sealDavid’s fate when he entered high school. David often took some time putting on his thick winter coat and snowpants, his boots, his hat and his mittens. Then he’d lift his loaded pack sackonto his back and trudge outside. Every day after the last bell rang, almostfour hundred children raced out of the school and gathered at the front ofthe building. Many boarded the buses that transported them home. Thechildren who lived in the village also milled around for a while, talking totheir friends before walking home. One day, Trevor was there, wearing only a light jacket. Heapproached David. “You fag. You told me to shut up this morning,” hesnarled. David hadn’t said anything to Trevor that morning, he told me laterat home. Even then, David didn’t say a word. He simply turned around tostart walking home. He felt the hard punches at the back of his head. Trevor pushedDavid. David fell down sideways into the snow. Within seconds, Trevor wason top of David and shoving snow into his mouth. David heard Mrs. Simpson, his teacher, call out to Trevor, “That’ll be asuspension for you on Monday, Trevor!” “It wasn’t fair, Mom,” David said later. “My packsack was so heavy andI had all this heavy stuff on and I could hardly move. I didn’t have achance.” Years later, David wrote down his feelings about this assault: “Ifyou’ve ever had an encounter with a vicious guard dog at a scrap yard, you’llknow how it felt. It was terrifying. This vicious boy was yelling and snarlingand punching and scraping me like a rabid dog” When David came home the following Monday and told me that Trevorwas back in school, smirking and happy, I was crushed. We were allincredibly disappointed. Mrs. Simpson was one of the most respectedteachers in the school. If that was all we could expect of her, what morecould we do? After that, Trevor was there in true form, making fun of Davideven more in the class where he could get away with it the most—Mr.Marcella’s French class. “He must have felt above the law. I wanted tohide in my desk. I hated French class,” David wrote later.
“Bullies” 66byNancy Knight A few weeks after that, David went on the grade seven and eight skitrip. All of the older students had been looking forward to the trip forweeks. Many parents would have found a way to work the cost of the threeday, two night trip into their budgets. A chartered school bus was hired totake the students and their luggage up to Collingwood, about one hundredmiles to the north. David was excited but anxious. During the first day there, Stewart’s younger brother, William, metDavid on the slopes. “When you go to Pearson next year, Stewart’s going toget you, David,” William announced. When David came home and told me about this latest threat, I phonedthe local police station. So Stewart’s at Pearson, I realized. Well maybe wecan get a head start on preventing future problems! “But it’s a threat, isn’t it?” I pleaded with the desk sergeant for help. “No ma’am,” she said. “First of all, we can only act on specific deaththreats but even so, Collingwood is in another jurisdiction. We can’t doanything about what happens there.” Am I starting to over react? I askedmyself. Even minor problems were starting to seem like ominous warningsof trouble ahead. There were bound to be disagreements among students of course. Iknew that David had clear and strong opinions about many social issues.We had often discussed complicated subjects, like the morality of war, socialinjustice, and what makes a compassionate society. David was articulateand very capable of presenting his point of view. But many of his fellow students were struggling with how to uselanguage to express their opinions. Lacking the academic vocabularyneeded to frame complicated ideas, many of the kids resorted to using bluntlanguage. Words like fag, woos, homo, whore, ho, slut, bitch were part ofeveryday conversation. If those words didn’t emphasize the point wellenough, there were others that were much stronger. I often heard that sortof vocabulary in the school. I imagined that the milder, more acceptablewords like stupid, dumb and loser that seemed polite by comparison, werereserved for use within the class rooms, though I frequently heard thatlanguage in the hallways, too. So it wasn’t a surprise when David came home one day and told methat he had called one of the boys in his class a name. David and Edward
“Bullies” 67byNancy Knighthad been having a disagreement during a classroom discussion and the wordhad slipped out as David tried to make a point. Edward reported the namecalling to his mom that evening. She phoned Mr. Harris, David’s resourceteacher. Then, Mr. Harris spoke to David. It surprised me that David hadbeen reprimanded by Mr. Harris at all, though I was glad for it. Many otherstudents, it seemed to me, also needed to be counselled about theirlanguage. “What did you call him?” I asked, not sure I wanted to hear theanswer. “I called him stupid,” David said. He looked down at his feet. You’ve got to be joking, I thought silently. David did learn from the experience and made sure he was morecareful. The other student also learned a lesson. Because of that oneinfraction, David was the only boy in the class not invited to Edward’sbirthday party. Edward had not been a popular student, but he was morepopular after that. Then, Trevor took David’s hat. At the time, it seemed like a trivialmatter, mild by comparison to all the physical abuse David was suffering.But I often think about it now and consider how troubling it must have beenfor David. He was thirteen years old. “What happened?” I asked when David walked into the kitchen. “I was carrying this,” he threw his crumpled cardboard project ontothe floor. “Trevor ran up behind me. He knocked my project out of myhands. Then he grabbed my hat. He called me a faggot. He ran into hisbackyard. I sat down. I had to think about what to do,” David said. “You were sitting on the road?” “No Mom, I sat in the gravel part. I thought that if I wanted my hatback, I was going to have to walk up to his front door and ring the bell.” “Boy, that was pretty brave.” “Trevor’s mom opened the door. I asked her for my hat. She askedTrevor what happened and he said he didn’t have my hat. He said I waslying about it because I hate him. I told his mom that I didn’t hate him andI barely even knew him. Trevor’ dad went out the back door and found myhat in the backyard. He gave it to me.”
“Bullies” 68byNancy Knight Then there were Rachel’s Bat Mitzvah plans. The gossip and the noteshad been circulating around the grade eight class room for weeks. Rachelwas making up her list of friends who would be invited. David mentioned the rumours about the big party at least weekly. Wedidn’t know Rachel or her family, but neither did many of the other childrenin the class, except for the small group of girls who were Rachel’s usualfriends. As the weeks rolled on, Rachel made a great fuss of who was goingto be invited to her party and passed around notes and messages about howmuch fun it was going to be and who was going to be there. She quicklybecame one of the popular girls as the competition for her favour, whichappeared and disappeared with cyclical regularity, heated up. As the big day approached, David began to realize that he was theonly one in the class not included in the message and information chainsthat were circulating around the room. About three weeks before the party,the invitations were handed out---to everyone but David. When he told me that he had not been invited, I knew he caredbecause he didn’t eat anything that evening. He had never had even onedisagreement with Rachel, he told me. He had never been anything butextremely polite and courteous to her. My heart was just breaking. Davidwas always a kind and sensitive boy. The more isolated he felt, the harderhe tried to be even nicer. But the name calling, assaults and jokes justcontinued to get worse. I just couldn’t understand why this was happeningand why the principals, Mary Lou Gibson, or any of David’s teachers, hadn’tbeen able to correct the problem. To make matters worse, David’s two friends deserted him. This didn’thappen overnight. There were signs early on in the year that the two boyswere starting to feel uneasy about their friendship with David. Aaron tried to help. He approached Michael and me in the hallway,just as we were leaving a parent-teacher interview. He walked up to usquickly, took a moment to check the hallway in every direction, and thenspoke to us in an almost inaudible whisper. “Mr. and Mrs. Knight,” he said. He rocked from side to side. “David isgetting picked on every single day.”
“Bullies” 69byNancy Knight“We know, Aaron,” I replied. “Thank you for caring. We’re trying to get itstopped. We’re trying very hard to help.” Then, as quickly as he had cometo us, he was gone. Increasingly, the bullying was being directed towards Aaron andStanley. The two friends were coming under more and more pressure.Eventually, I suspected, they saw no other way to avoid the abuse. Theydistanced themselves from David and each other. Aaron began to associatewith the bullies. Stanley isolated himself completely. They also began toharass David themselves, gently at first, and then more fiercely. By the endof his grade eight year, David was completely isolated. When the bright, two-page pamphlet, along with the usual newsletterand notes from the teacher, came home with Katie in the big manilaenvelope, I thought I finally had the answer. The pamphlet was a schoolboard publication. It emphasized the impact of discrimination andharassment and mentioned the importance of telling someone about it. I took it over to the school and waved it at the principal. “Here, seethis?” I said to him, “this says quite clearly that harassment anddiscrimination should not be tolerated. This needs to be followed for David’ssake.” “That is not what’s happening to David and at the present time, wehave no policies or programs that would help David,” he said. I stared athim as he turned and walked away. I wondered just what could be happening to David if it wasn’tharassment. I searched the sheet of paper for clues about what to do if theprincipal refused to acknowledge and deal with harassment when it wasreported, but there were none. The next time I had a chance to speak to Brian Deluca after a Karatelesson, I mentioned this to him. “The principal told me they have no policiesor programs to put in place that would help David. Do you know of any?” “Yes, as a matter of fact, we offer an anti-harassment seminar foremployers and their employees. I’m sure it could be adapted for a school,”he said. He handed me one of his shiny brochures. I went back to theschool and handed the thin booklet to John Hampton.
“Bullies” 70byNancy Knight “David’s Karate teacher gave me this. He offers a program designedto eliminate workplace harassment and says it could be adapted for a schoolenvironment.” John took it from me and walked into his office. I took inventory of my attempts to advocate for David and the lack ofresponse from the teachers and school administration. There had also beenthe strange reluctance of the parents to confront the subject of studentbehaviour at parent council meetings. Often, the subject of discipline wasmentioned, but the principal would end the discussion abruptly, before theproblem could be dealt with. I think I lost all faith in the principal the day heangrily explained that he didn’t like “being embarrassed in a public forum.” “Parents don’t want schools telling their children how to behave,” hesaid. But someone had to do that job and the only person ultimatelyresponsible for disciplining the children was the principal. He’s not doing hisjob, I finally realized. I needed a way to bring the problem out into the openand in the presence of someone in authority over school administration. That year, large businesses were contributing equipment andresources to some schools. Many parent councils wanted to obtaincharitable organization numbers so they could solicit those funds. Our board of education announced that it was holding a meeting aboutthis at a local secondary school. The assistant superintendent of schoolswas there with a team of board lawyers. They asserted the board’s right tocharitable donations of any significant value. For me, the meeting was aquick lesson in how our school board was organized and who wasaccountable to whom. The superintendent was our principal’s supervisor. Iapproached her at the end of the meeting. I wasn’t happy with what washappening at my children’s school, I told her. “Have your principal invite me to one of the school’s parent councilmeetings,” she said. “You can do that by writing a letter requesting that heinvite me to the next meeting. Hand the letter to him directly.” I gave the letter to the principal the next day. “What’s this about?” heasked me. “And in what capacity are you making this request?” he addedformally. “I’m making the request as a concerned parent. I’m worried aboutthis school.”
“Bullies” 71byNancy Knight The superintendent attended the next parent council meeting. Whenshe spoke to the group, she didn’t mention the thirty or so page letter I hadsent to her by registered mail the previous week. Does the superintendentwant to hide what’s going on at the school as much as the principal does? Iwondered. Regular council business was discussed, and then the chair openedthe discussion to everyone. I said I had concerns. “One of our parents hasharmed one of our children. It’s the unwillingness of those responsible todeal with the problem of student behaviour that’s causing frustration. Wecan’t deal with it if we allow our discussions to be muffled,” I said to ahushed room. The entire administration, support staff, and several of theteachers were transferred out of the school that year. I thought myrevelation that evening may have prompted the changes.The anticipation of high school was all the buzz among the grade eightstudents. Their teachers began to talk about planning for the big changeand helping the students fill out their course selection forms. All of themwere bussed down to the city for a one day orientation session and a tour oftheir new school. Many of the children were worried. There were plenty of storiescirculating about gummering. This was the name for the initiation ritualsthat were to be meted out to any students unfortunate enough to be in thewrong place at the wrong time. There were rumours flying about studentsbeing lifted into garbage bins or locked inside lockers. David told me onestory about a grade nine student who had his head plunged into a toilet bytwo senior students who had been loitering in the washroom. Though David, and many of the young teens at Kilbride School werevery worried, David was quite excited about going to a new school. “I’llhave nine hundred kids to choose from,” he told me. We made sure we asked Mr. Harris, the resource teacher, to fill out therequisition form so David would get extra help in grade nine. Michael askedhim to pass on all the information in David’s file. We believed that thereports from the therapist and psychologist, and our letters to the grade sixteacher and the principal would be in David’s file. The meeting notes theteachers and the principals had made would be included, we thought. We
“Bullies” 72byNancy Knightalso thought that whatever notes Mary Lou Gibson had made in the courseof counselling David about the harassment and physical aggression wouldalso be included. All that information would give the new administration anidea of the challenges ahead. When we eventually saw the contents ofDavid’s file, only one report was in it: a very early report explaining thatDavid had ADHD. The grade eight students started to make plans for their graduation.David was eager to go but we were nervous. Not one of his fellow studentswas willing to associate with him. Before we walked over to the school thatevening, Michael and I argued. I thought he hadn’t done enough to helpDavid. He felt I had interfered too much and caused trouble. We were still stressed and upset when we reached the school withDavid and Katie. I was worried about the isolation and rejection David musthave felt. As the different groups of students huddled together, David sat allalone. He walked up to the front of the gymnasium to collect his diploma.He didn’t seem to care about whether he was accepted. He had his eyes seton the new school and the new people he would meet there.
“Bullies” 73byNancy Knight Dear Principal, The principal of my children’s elementary school loved gardening. Inhis garden, he told me, he could experience the results of his efforts in justone season. But, as an educator of young children, he rarely got to see theirultimate outcomes after his students left his care. My children and I havelived through the educational experience from beginning to end. I can tellyou now that the challenges you avoid early on, will only grow into biggerproblems later. The uncontrolled behaviour and anger of a bully willeventually wreck havoc on someone or something. You will need the courage to use your training and common sense, theCode of Conduct, teachers, resource staff, and everything the board ofeducation has to offer, to maintain a healthy and disciplined schoolenvironment. With your positive encouragement and good example, theschool climate should be cheerful and success oriented. If it’s not and youhave concerned parents at your office door or raising the subject ofbehaviour at parent council meetings, you have to ask yourself if there’sanything that needs to be changed. Is there a missing link in the chain ofpositive school communication? You don`t want to be on your own, tryingto fulfill your duty of “ensuring student supervision and school discipline”,without the co-operation and the involvement of parents, community, andschool. Do you need reinforcements: re-thinking budget priorities toimplement a good anti-bullying program, an in-service to get the teachersonside, an honest discussion at a parent council meeting, and a studentassembly? The Ministry of Education and your local school board have givenyou the authority and the responsibility to use your discretion in decidinghow to address student behaviour. Principals are the ones who can makethings happen. It’s up to you.Sincerely,
“Bullies” 74byNancy KnightA parent
“Bullies” 75byNancy Knight 11. High SchoolWe drove to Pearson High School for student photo and locker registrationday. David sat quietly in the back seat and if he was nervous, he didn’tshow it. He was fourteen years old and looked very young. His wispy,sandy blonde hair blew in all directions in the slightest breeze above his iceblue eyes. We arrived just after nine and hoped the first rush of students wouldbe gone. We parked on the busy parking lot some distance away from themain doors. David went into the school alone. It was a lovely summer day so Michael and I sat with the windowsopen and waited. A large mini-van pulled into the row just ahead of us andfor several minutes we heard a loud, heated argument coming from thatdirection. A man, dressed smartly in a light summer shirt and crisp cottontrousers approached the driver’s open door. “Good morning,” the man saidto whoever was inside. “I’m a teacher here at Pearson and I couldn’t helpbut overhear your discussion. I know first visits to a new school can bedifficult but Pearson is a nice school. Can I help?” “My boy here, well, he doesn’t want to go in,” we heard someone sayfrom inside the van. A big, burly man got out and walked around the vehicleand opened the passenger side door. A young teenager climbed out andstood beside his father. The teacher joined them both. “I understand why you might be nervous,” the teacher addressed theboy, who was wiping tears from his cheeks with his bare arm. “How about ifI go inside with you and show you where to find the line for the lockers?” theteacher offered. “Sure,” the young teenager accepted. He seemed to brighten a bit. “Don’t worry about him. He’ll be back in about an hour,” the teacherreassured the dad as he and the boy walked towards the school. Michaeland I sat silent.
“Bullies” 76byNancy Knight At least two hours later we watched sadly yet not surprised as Davidwalked back to the car. Streams of tears were rolling down his cheeks. Heseemed absolutely overwhelmed as he quickly got into the car. I handedhim some tissues and waited. “I took a number and waited in line,” he saidwhen he had settled. “When I got to the table I tried to give my ticket tothe teacher. This kid, he runs up to me, grabs it real fast, pushes in front ofme, and hands it in.” “Didn’t the teacher do anything?” I asked. “No, the teacher was looking the other way.” “Did you tell him what happened?” “I told him the kid took my number. He said there was no way toprove it,” David’s voice cracked. Michael went into the school with David and told a teacher what hadhappened. The three of them walked past the other waiting students. Halfan hour later David and his dad were back in the car. When we finally got home it was after noon. As soon as I got insidethe house, I called the school. “May I speak to the principal please?” I askedthe secretary. “Hugo Mastroianni here,” the principal said. His voice was soft andrefined. “I’m not impressed with what happened to my son today,” I said. Itold him how horrible David had felt, and then, to make sure he knew, Imentioned Trevor, Jason and Stewart. “They caused us a lot of misery atKilbride School,” I said. The principal seemed very quiet. Was he actuallywriting their names down? Is he going to fix things? I wondered. He waspolite enough but didn’t say he would do anything. I began to suspect that things weren’t going to be much different atPearson when David told me about the first assembly of his grade nine year. “Yea Mom, Mr. Mastroianni said that. He said, ‘If you go looking forgummering, you’ll be in trouble, too,’ that’s what he said.” “I’m sure he means that if you were to be joking around and actinglike you wanted to participate in that sort of silliness, you’d be responsible
“Bullies” 77byNancy Knightfor your own problems,” I explained, “I’m sure he doesn’t mean when youhaven’t done anything to deserve it.” “Yea, but Mom,” David said in his most officious voice, “how’s he goingto tell whether someone’s been joking around or not? He’s going to thinkeveryone who gets gummered was asking for trouble.” Two days after that assembly, as if Mr. Mastroianni had given thesignal for the gummering to begin rather than warning against it, one of thesenior boys picked David up--all sixty pounds of him--and dropped him intoa large garbage can.Pearson High School was just blocks away from where we had lived yearsearlier. Jeremy, a boy David knew from our former neighbourhood, was alsostarting out at Pearson that year. A quick call to his mom and we were ableto help the boys get connected with one another again. For a while, Jeremy’s mother offered to have both boys go to herplace for lunch on school days. For the next forty-five minute period afterlunch, Jeremy, David, and many of the students from Kilbride School were inMr. Moffat’s music class together. David and Jeremy were doing well but itwas obvious from what David was telling us that Trevor and Jason were not. Jason had grown quickly the previous year. In grade nine he was atall, bulky fellow, with strong, masculine features. He was quite intimidatingand very confident. Trevor too was growing taller and stronger. He hadalways seemed impulsive when I had encountered him in Kilbride. Now hewas quick tempered and aggressive. David and Jeremy sat in the music class together. Trevor and Jasontaunted and embarrassed them mercilessly. “He’s a fag,” they called outover and over again. One day, Trevor and Jason backed Jeremy against a wall and pushedtheir bulky, muscular bodies close to him. Jeremy was a thin and fragileyoung man with blond hair, fair skin and deep blue eyes. Trevor and Jasonaccused Jeremy of being gay: “Like David,” they said. It was too much for
“Bullies” 78byNancy KnightJeremy to bear. The friendship between Jeremy and David slid rapidly intohistory. There were problems in some other classes, too. Jason and Davidwere in the same geography class and day after day, Jason harassed Davidthere, too. That wasn’t surprising. What was incredible however, was the numberof times throughout the day when Jason and Trevor were outside of theclass room. In the larger secondary school, with fewer teachers in thecorridors, they started yelling those names out to David in the halls, in thehuge locker bay, in the cafeteria, and outside on the grounds of the school.They called out loudly, and when the halls were filled with students, everytime they saw him, every day. One day, Jason approached David while he was talking to a girl in thehall. Jason pushed David out of the way and said, “No, she doesn’t likeyou.” Then he started talking to her himself. “Yea, he’s a fag, don’t hang out with him. Everyone hates him,” Jasonrepeated constantly. Soon, the innuendo and rumours Trevor and Jason were spreadingabout David began to permeate throughout the entire school. It didn’tmatter who David tried to speak to, they all seemed to have heard abouthow disliked he was. “I guess a lot of people really do hate you,” one young lady, whohardly knew David, told him. “I don’t really know him,” she told anotherstudent a short time later. Jason had seen her talking to David, sherealized. He was beginning to focus his negative attention onto her. It’s unbelievable, I thought at the time. How could two students beconstantly shadowing him in the halls throughout the day and still beattending their own classes? As well, David was trapped on the same school bus with Trevor foralmost two hours a day. David told me that he always slipped into his seat
“Bullies” 79byNancy Knightat the very front of the bus. He liked engaging the driver, who was alwayseager to talk to him, in conversation. At the same time he tried to ignorethe constant barrage of hate filled banter from Trevor and his friends whosat with him at the back. I don’t think I could have hidden the sorrow I feltfor David as I imagined his hurt and embarrassment-- all of the otherstudents on the bus must have been an unwilling audience to David’storment. Every school day morning it was easy to tell that David was worried:he was irritable, angry, and not eager to go out the door. And everyafternoon when he came home from school, he’d tell me what happened thatday--I knew he was unhappy. Years later, when I read over the many notesDavid had written, I realized what sort of thought processes he was goingthrough as he tried to cope. “Games grow with kids until high school and then it’s no longer agame. Now it’s hate, but they can’t understand why they hate you.” I phoned Mr. Mastroianni again. I told him that Stewart, Trevor, andJason were still harassing David. I reminded him that this had been goingon for a long time and that it was constant. He told me he wouldinvestigate. I thought I knew what to do. Be really firm with the principal and getthe resource staff on side, I schemed. I’m not going to let things get badthis time, I promised myself. I phoned the Student Services office. I hoped that they could do morethan the principal was doing. “Mrs. Spencer here,” the woman said rightaway. She was going to be David’s teacher for a resource period, she toldme. “The boys from Kilbride have been persecuting David for years,” I toldher. “Let’s give him a bit of time and see how he does. I’ll watch out forhim,” Mrs. Spencer promised.
“Bullies” 80byNancy Knight One week later, I phoned her again. “He’s afraid to go to the principalor to you to report what’s happening,” my voice seemed to be splitting into athousand pieces. “He’s worried about the repercussions if they find out he’sbeen saying anything, but he comes home and tells me. They’reembarrassing him. He’s worried and he can’t sleep. He’s not eating welleither.” “Don’t worry. There are ways to deal with these things withoutattributing the information to David,” she explained. “Leave it to me.” Afew days later, David told me that he had two short talks with Mrs. Spencerin the Student Services office--but nothing changed. After two or three more phone calls to the principal and the chats withMrs. Spencer, I’d heard all the familiar phrases that meant that nothing wasgoing to happen: “We’ll take care of it”, “I’ll look into it”, “I’ll check”, “Don’tworry”, and “We’re taking care of it”. Isn’t anyone going to follow the Code of Conduct and provide somediscipline? I wondered. I didn’t want to get tough but I felt I had no choice. I phoned the board of education office. The woman on the phone inthe Office of the Superintendent of Schools seemed sympathetic. “Theprincipal is not following the Code of Conduct. Students are not beingdisciplined for their inappropriate behaviour. My son is being harassed bythe same students year after year and no one is doing anything about it.” A few days later an envelope arrived in my mailbox. Enclosed was acopy of the Code of Conduct. It was exactly the same as the one the SafeSchools Committee at Kilbride School had worked on three years earlier.There was also a letter.***. “Dear Mrs. Knight: ...I have forwarded your messages toSuperintendent, Roberta Flack, Education Services. ...I hope this difficult
“Bullies” 81byNancy Knightsituation is addressed as soon as possible. Wishing you all the best, yourstruly, Mary Jones, Office of the Director.”*** That Halloween, as usual, Trevor, Jason and some friends threw eggsat our house. Michael once again fetched a bucket of water and cleaned upthe mess. At school, Trevor bluntly warned David, “If I ever find eggssmashed on my property, I’ll kill you.” They’re getting bolder, I thought. We were getting some mixed reports from the school. David’s gradeswere starting to fall. One In Danger letter arrived in the mail warning of apossible failing grade. Some of his teachers appealed for more effort. Noneof them mentioned anything about David’s attitude towards his work. Themusic teacher’s comments complemented him on maintaining his goodbehaviour despite what he called “distractions”. “I appreciate the positiveexample you display,” Mr. Moffat wrote. Soon, Jason wanted David’s lunch money. He demanded money fromDavid n the cafeteria and during their class time together. Trevor soonpicked this up and tried to get money from David, too. “So what did you say to them?” I asked David. “I don’t have any money,” David told me. “You’ve got to tell the principal,” I urged. “No Mom, they never do anything about things and if the kids see mein the office or find out, they’ll be even worse.” “Well, what does Trevor say when you tell him you don’t have anymoney?” David lowered his voice and mimicked gruffly, “So at lunch, I betternot see you buying food.”
“Bullies” 82byNancy Knight It was a mystery why the boys needed extra money. They’re familiesweren’t poor. I could only wonder later if the reason had anything to dowith the sad fact that Trevor and Jason, along with many of the otherstudents, were starting to smoke. David told me he noticed many of themloitering around the variety store across from the school until they could findsomeone who was old enough and willing to buy cigarettes for them. Ifound out later from the court documents that Jason was given a one daysuspension for smoking on school property. The main doors of the high school lead out to the parking lot and theacres of exercise fields beyond. The driveway runs past a bank of portableclass rooms and out to the city street. Every day, just before three o’clock,students who lived too far away to walk would wait on the sidewalk alongthe driveway until the busses arrived. If he was finished his classes earlyand if his bus was already there, David would have ten minutes to half anhour to sit in his usual seat near the driver and look out the bus window. The day David saw the fight, he was sitting on the bus looking overtowards the portables. As always, he had a watchful eye for his tormentors.He noticed Stewart and his friend as soon as they left the school. David watched the two boys walk over to the grassy area in front ofthe row of class rooms. They faced each other for a few moments. Theboys began to gesture wildly. There was a shove. Then, in a frenzy of whatDavid told me looked like madness, Stewart drove one powerful punch afteranother into his friend’s face. In seconds, they were both on the groundembroiled in a bloody battle. “The teacher didn’t do anything!” David’s eyes were wide with fearwhen he came home. “It was a real fight this time. The other boy wasbeaten up. His face was dripping with blood.” David was sweating. His facewas bright red. His descriptions were dramatic. I could feel my stomachchurn. The day after the fight, I phoned Mr. Mastroianni. “David told meStewart Martin was in a fight yesterday and hurt another student badly. I’mreally worried about this. I’m afraid for my son. Stewart’s been intimidating
“Bullies” 83byNancy Knightand hurting David for years. I’m really upset about this,” I said to a silentprincipal. “If Stewart was to go unpunished for this incident, I’m worried hemay go after David,” I added. “I haven’t had any problems with Stewart before this,” he said,“except for some skipped classes last year and when I spoke to him aboutthat, he stopped skipping.” “Listen, Mr. Mastroianni, this isn’t the first time Stewart Martin hasassaulted another student. I’ve mentioned him to you before. I’m prettysure he was charged and put on probation for assaulting David inelementary school. This time there should be serious consequences forStewart Martin. The board’s Code of Conduct requires it. David tells me theinjuries were so severe both of the boys probably should have seen a doctor.Stewart’s one year probation for hitting David would be finished by now. Hemay think he’s free to misbehave again. Heaven knows what he’ll do now.” “Well I wouldn’t worry too much about this. I don’t think he’ll be inschool very much longer anyway. He’s not the brightest bulb in the bunch,you know.” I was surprised at the latest excuse for not taking action. Ihadn’t heard that one before. “I really hope you do the right thing, Mr. Mastroianni, and I’m going tophone the superintendent now to make sure she gives you her support fordoing what’s appropriate here. I’m going to make sure she knows I wantyou to protect David from Stewart.” Then I phoned his boss, the superintendent, and spoke directly to her.“I’ve just phoned Mr. Mastroianni,” I said, and then repeated everything Ihad said to her principal. “Oh yes, Mr. Mastroianni. We work very closely on these things,” shesaid. She was letting me know that she was definitely on the principal’s side.“Mrs. Knight, there are many times,” now she was sounding like a grade oneteacher, “when children are allowed a second chance, that they turn aroundand become good students,” the superintendent explained.
“Bullies” 84byNancy Knight “Stewart’s had more than his share of second chances,” I said. “I hope itisn’t my son who gets hurt next.” David heard rumours aplenty. Because Stewart was not at school forthe next few days, David told me, everyone assumed that he’d beensuspended. “What about the police?” I asked David, “Did anyone sayanything about the police?” “I heard some kids talking. They hang out with Stewart sometimes.They said the other boy’s dad told the principal it was just an argumentbetween friends.” We thought about the harm an angry young man like Stewart wascapable of causing. We were all having trouble sleeping at night. I couldn’thelp imagining my young son as the victim of Stewart’s rage. The thoughtmade me dizzy with fear. Stewart Martin had returned his attention to David almost as soon asDavid started school that year. Stewart threw chalk, markers, and paperscrunched into hard balls, at David--anything he could get his hands on,whenever he had a chance to avoid getting caught. He often stood inDavid’s way so that David couldn’t get on the bus. David had to go backinto the school and call his dad to pick him up. Those encounters were less frequent then. Stewart wasn’t in any ofDavid’s classes. But, I knew that negotiating his way around Stewart waslike a game in which David seemed forever trapped. Though Jason andTrevor continued to harass and embarrass David, Stewart, I thought, wasmore dangerous. The strategies David had to quickly learn to avoidconfrontations with Stewart, Jason, Trevor, and some of their friends, wouldbe important lessons in avoiding conflict later, but I could see the strainwearing him down. He spent more and more emotional and intellectualenergy learning: to avoid eye contact, changing the routes he took toclasses, choosing the times he went to his locker. David’s ability to stay outof the bullies’ way had become a matter of survival. Trevor was in David’s Computer Technology class. “He tried to makemy life miserable,” David wrote later. And Jason was in David’s Science
“Bullies” 85byNancy Knightclass and taunted David there. He continued to harass David in the halls.Jason still harassed whoever associated with David, whenever he had achance. And he seemed to have endless opportunities. David told me thatJason was always in the hallways, drifting aimlessly, for a good part of theday. In fact, Jason’s report cards in the court documents showed that hewas skipping many of his classes. David started skipping, too. He didn’twant to go to the classes the bullies were in. He started to miss a great dealof his work and some of the tests. He was also having a difficult time finding anyone willing to work onassignments with him. By then, it would have been apparent to all thateven an association with David carried its risks. A young teenager wouldhave had to be very courageous to maintain a connection with David—orvery needy. So when David told me he was getting to know Steve Jessop, I wasapprehensive as well as happy for him. David’s first descriptions of Stevewere vague, yet he seemed to welcome this new friend. The number ofstudents prepared to associate with David steadily declined. Eventually, hissocial contacts were limited to Steve Jessop, and a few girls who gathered inthe lounge area adjacent to the music room. It would have been a miracle if his school work did not suffer. Notsurprisingly, David’s marks dropped rapidly. Soon, we received the secondIn Danger letter from the principal. At the end of the year some of thecomments on his report card gave us a hint of the effects of the bullying onhis work: “David has refocused his efforts and is ignoring most socialdistractions.” This is certainly an understated way of referring to thepsychological abuse that was being directed at David every single day. Withall of the challenges facing him, the last thing we needed to do was to putany pressure on him about his grades. We left him to do the best he could. Jason, too, had not done well that year. He was suspended again.“Physical Risk and Moral Tone” were the reasons on the suspension letter.Academically, Jason had been having difficulty at school for a very long time.
“Bullies” 86byNancy KnightHe’d been a sensitive, cheerful little boy in public school. He struggled withmathematics and reading. He had difficulty concentrating and attending tohis work. The school provided Jason with ongoing remedial help for theearlier grades. When Jason was in grade seven, they withdrew that help.Jason was failing again. Then, while he was in grade eight, they gave himresource help again. Somehow, as Jason prepared to move on to highschool, his marks were all in the mid to high seventies. In grade nine, Jason was having great difficulty. He attended summerschool for mathematics and science. That raised his marks to a passinggrade. Yet he did well in physical education, and in computer studies hismark was well over seventy percent. In contrast, Trevor was a perfect student. He excelled at mathematicsfrom an early age and had very good marks. Yet progressive report cardsindicated the increasing difficulty he was having in listening politely andcarefully in group situations. He needed to use more self control in the classroom and on the playground, his teachers repeatedly observed. Once he reached high school, Trevor’s achievement slipped in science,the class in which he harassed David the most. In music too, another classin which he was constantly acting out and taunting David and Jeremy, theteacher noted that Trevor’s performance was not indicative of his ability. I phoned Mr. Mastroianni several more times to tell him that Trevorwas continuing to harass David on the bus. Trevor never stopped and histaunts became progressively more threatening. Since Trevor lived just aquarter of a mile away from our house, the boys disembarked at the samelocation. Trevor had to head west to reach his house while David needed towalk south. David said that instead of going directly home, Trevor startedchasing him after they got off the bus. David was often out of breath whenhe slammed the back door behind him. “He keeps telling me he’s going to beat me up,” David told me. “I’ll phone the school David,” I told him one day, “but what will you domeanwhile?”
“Bullies” 87byNancy Knight “I stayed on the bus already,” he told me. “I pretend I’m getting off.Then Trevor gets off. Then I sit back down. Then the driver closes thedoors,” he said. I didn’t think David would be too unhappy with the longerbus ride. He had told me many times that his conversations with DJ wereinteresting. DJ the bus driver was in a band. He often told David storiesabout his exciting evening job. But I was really worried about Trevor’sincreasingly aggressive behaviour. Unfortunately, as time went on, Trevor realized what David was doingand stayed on the bus, too. David had to wait yet another stop to avoidTrevor. Some of the stops on a school bus route through the SouthernOntario countryside were miles apart and David was coming home later andmore worried as the days went by. One afternoon the phone rang. “Mom, will you come and get me?” Itwas David. “Where are you?” “I’m at Kilbride School,” he said. He had stayed on the bus until it hadfinished all of its stops and reached the school. The bus would then pick upthe elementary school children at 3:45 pm and make the journey back toBurlington. “Trevor told me he was going to beat me up, Mom. I wentinside the school. They let me use the phone,” David told me as we walkedthe half mile route home past Trevor’s house. “Mr. Mastroianni, Trevor is still harassing David on the bus to and fromschool. David has been staying on the bus and getting off at stops fartheraway in order to avoid Trevor. Trevor has been threatening to beat Davidup. This has been going on for some time now.” “Thank you for calling, Mrs. Knight. I’ll check on it right away.” “Hello Mr. Mastroianni. Trevor is still bothering David on the bus.Other students are joining in. The harassment and bullying in the halls andin the classes the boys take together is never ending. This is getting verydifficult.”
“Bullies” 88byNancy Knight “Mrs. Spencer, I’m worried about David. Trevor and Jason are stillharassing him.”
“Bullies” 89byNancy Knight 12. KatieIn grade six, Katie was placed in a class with her friend Marina and twoother friends. Mrs. Ravemsbirg, the homeroom teacher, sat Katie besideAbbie Morris. Abbie had a hearing disability and had difficulty understandingwhat was being said. Mrs. Ravensburg wanted Katie to help Abbie. By Christmas of her grade seven year, Katie had been helping Abbiefor a year and a half and as Abbie demanded more of her time Katie wasbecoming increasingly disconnected from her other friends. They didn’twant to include Abbie and Katie found herself trying to divide her timebetween them. In that second half of Katie’s grade seven year, David was beingconstantly harassed by Trevor and Jason in grade eight. Thankfully though,we were enjoying a brief reprieve from David’s problems with StewartMartin. But for some reason, William Martin, Stewart’s younger brother, andKatie became friends. With his sandy brown hair and blue eyes heresembled his older brother, except that he was less stocky, less muscular,and had freckles which made him look impish. It seemed an unlikelyalliance and it was puzzling. Of all the children in the school, why would itbe the brother of David’s fiercest persecutor who would be giving our Katiehis attention? I wondered. I mentioned this to Mr. Hampton. I told him thatI hoped that the friendship wouldn’t be encouraged. But I knew keeping thetwo young people apart at school would be next to impossible. I comfortedmyself with the fact that William did not have the difficulties with hisbehaviour that his older brother had been troubled with. William was quitean academic and polite young man. Besides, it would be difficult for the twoof them to associate anywhere else other than at the school. The following year, a new administration took over the school and Ihoped for change. “We wanted to be here,” the new principal told me. But,
“Bullies” 90byNancy Knightat the first Parent Council meeting of the year, one of the parents tried toraise the subject of school discipline and behaviour again. I held my breathand waited for the principal’s response, but she said nothing. She refused todiscuss the subject. “You’re not going to allow discussion about this are you?” one of theparents said. He was irritated and angry. “No,” the new principal said and shook her head. I gave up on ParentCouncils. After Christmas, the school organized a four day trip to Quebec City. Iremembered the orientation meeting Mr. Harris had organized the previousyear for David’s grade eight Blue Mountain trip. Mr. Harris had explainedthat the trip was absolutely optional, that the children should be encouragedto work towards the trip expenses themselves, and that no harm would bedone if some parents felt that they did not want their child to participate.We considered this information carefully. Our family was planning to take avacation to England and Europe that coming summer and I rememberedDavid’s stories about his three days at Blue Mountain. After muchconsideration, we decided that it wouldn’t be too much of a sacrifice forKatie to miss Quebec City. The week of the trip came and went. Katie did not seem to mindstaying behind and spent the week helping out at the school in one of thejunior class rooms. However, when the students came back from Quebec, itdidn’t take us long to realize the real repercussions of not sending Katieaway with the group. Mr. Harris had been wrong. There had been a considerable amount ofbonding between the students while they were away. When they returned, awhole new configuration of friendship groups had formed. Abbie was thenwell entrenched with one of those groups and when she came back, shecompletely ignored Katie. Another major change was occurring at the same time. As many ofthe older girls and boys approached their thirteenth birthdays in the NewYear, some of them began to enter puberty. The former principal hadpointed this out to me the previous year, “You’ll notice a dramatic change inbehaviour,” he had said. We hadn’t encountered this process in our familyyet.
“Bullies” 91byNancy Knight Some of the boys in Katie’s grade eight class started to grow taller,heavier; their voices deepened. Some of the girls blossomed into youngwomen and started to experiment with cosmetics and more mature clothing.The banter between the sexes became more provocative, more sexual as theboys started to notice the girls. The language in the halls and on theplayground was changing, too. Some of the boys were calling the girlsnames. On my occasional walks through the school, I often heard thewhispered, denigrating, sexist insults that I knew were most likely alsodirected at my daughter. I remember wondering to myself how terrible it must have been forthose young girls to have been continually harassed about their emergingfemininity at the very time they may have been the most self-conscious andinsecure about it. I heard words like slut, ho and whore so often I wanted toscream. And I could only imagine how terrible some of the younger boys,not yet maturing, and possibly panicking about whether they ever would, tobe constantly called names like woos, homo, gay, fag and loser. As the year went on, it seemed that every day Katie went to schoolthere were more problems with Abbie. The two girls were close enough atthe beginning of the year that they had chosen to share a locker together.But after the trip to Quebec, there were several accusations by Abbie thatKatie had taken various items of clothing and books from their locker. Thenone day, Katie came home in tears. Abbie had accused her of stealing herlunch, reported the theft to the teacher, and Katie had been questionedseverely about the incident. She was devastated and was upset for days.As the accusations continued, Katie was getting increasingly irritable and hergrades were dropping rapidly. And at home, the tension in our family had reached terrible levels.Michael and I had been arguing constantly as we struggled to understandand to deal with what was happening to our children. We seemed todisagree on everything else. As the pressures mounted I turned to differentprofessionals for help. I arranged some appointments with a social workerand asked her to help me figure out what to do and started attendingclasses on parenting teenagers. During the winter break, we took the children to Florida and to DisneyWorld. We drove down along the I-75 and came back the same way. David
“Bullies” 92byNancy Knightand Katie had been arguing constantly during the past two years. As usual,Katie was teasing David relentlessly throughout the journey back and whilewe were waiting outside of a hotel while Michael went inside to register,Katie and David argued again. I was furious. Katie was beginning to soundvery much like the other children at the school who had been harassingDavid. Michael was no help. He sulked and interfered when I tried to warnthe children about arguing. When we headed off again, Michael and I sat inthe car struggling to keep from attacking each other all the way home alongthe 401 highway. By the time we got back home, I had decided that Iwasn’t prepared to try to deal with the tension between Michael and me atthe same time as I was trying to figure out how to help my children. I askedMichael to take the car, his unpacked bags, and leave. He spent the nexttwo months in a hotel. I got on the phone. I called Mr. Sanders, who hadseen and helped David earlier and who had since trained as a psychologist.I took both David and Katie to see him. Mr. Sanders seemed to know whathe was doing. As Katie and her friends continued through their grade eight year,there were some dramatic changes ahead. Marina’s father suffered alengthy illness and Marina, Katie and their two friends, grew closer for awhile. There were many sleepovers as three of us mothers tried to occupythe girls while Marina’s mom cared for and spent time with her husband. Then tragedy changed Marina’s life. Her father died and Marina andher mom decided to sell their house and move to northern Ontario to becloser to family. Marina became more distant as she prepared to leave. Thetwo other girls were changing as well. They became interested in modellingwhile Katie was more comfortable at the stable with the horses and thefriends she had there. As the grade eight students were anticipating their move on to PearsonHigh School in the fall I worried about how isolated Katie had become atschool. I mentioned my concerns to the principal. She handed me apamphlet with the name of a child psychologist on it. She didn’t seem to beinterested in doing anything to help even though Katie’s grades continuedtheir downward spiral and she missed more and more school. She didn’tfeel well she said and hid in her bedroom. Later on I realized she had
“Bullies” 93byNancy Knightmissed even more school when her teacher finally called me to let me knowthat Katie had not been at school for several days. “I send her to school every morning and there’s no way I can find outif she leaves school after that,” I told the teacher when she called.“Everybody there at that school knows why she doesn’t want to be there.Why don’t you do what it takes to keep her there?” Katie had missedtwenty-nine days of school. Of course it was no surprise that Katie did notwant to go to her Grade eight graduation. Spending time with the horsesand the people at the riding stable continued to be a source of comfort andpride for Katie and that evening she preferred to be with them.
“Bullies” 94byNancy Knight 13. Finding LuganoWhile Michael was out of the house, we went to counselling sessionsseparately. It was easier to figure out why we were so angry, and how todeal with it, if we weren’t able to point fingers at each other. The twochildren weren’t interested in our problems. Michael had been away forsimilar periods in the past while he worked in Europe and other parts ofNorth America. David and Katie were busy coping with the day to daydifficulties at school. So, when Michael and I decided it was time to co-operate again, the two children seemed to hardly notice he’d been gone. We needed to pull our family together, and strengthen ourselvesagainst the constant bullying and our feelings of helplessness. I continuedmaking plans for a vacation. I wanted to fly to London and trek throughEurope by train. But Michael was in the midst of an important project. “I’mnot sure I can get away from work,” he told me. “Ok,” I said, “but the kids and I are going anyway.” That’s when David, who was sitting at the kitchen table, furrowed hisbrow. “But mom, how’re you going to know where to go? You can’t seevery well.” “A totally blind man has just made it to the top of Mount Everest. Ifhe can do that, I can do Europe. Katie and you can help, too,” I proclaimed. But I started to have doubts. I knew I’d have difficulty reading signs,train schedules, and restaurant menus. It would be difficult for me torecognize people and observe facial expressions. I had a small magnifier Icould carry in my pocket that would help me a bit, but I didn’t know exactlywhat challenges I’d face. I started to think up excuses for not going. Then Michael negotiated with the company for some time away fromwork. Days before we were to leave, he came home with good news. “I cango for three weeks,” he said. He would join us during our second week inEngland. My confidence rose. He’d be there to help during the most difficultsections of the trip, but I knew I’d still have a lot to learn.
“Bullies” 95byNancy Knight As the plane rose into the late night sky, Katie said, “Mom, if we crashand die, it’ll be your fault.” She stared at me. Though Katie hadn’t objectedmuch about going on the vacation, I knew she’d rather be at the stable,riding horses. Her remark was a hint that Katie might not be a co-operativefellow traveller. I wondered if I could ask the pilot to turn the plane around.I could think of some excuse and then take the three of us back home, Ithought. But there was no turning back. In London, we hopped on and off bright red double-decker busses. Wetook the Jack the Ripper evening coach tour and experienced some of thegruesome reminders of Britain’s turbulent past: Sweeny Todd’s barber shop,haunted estates, and relics of medieval barbarism at The Dungeon. Davidand Katie paid special attention when the tour guide pointed out Tyburn Hill.“Twenty-four people were hanged here, all at once, twelve times a year,” hetold us all and then boasted, “At least we didn’t make a bloody orgy of it,like the French.” Bullying has been around for a very long time, I thought. The following week, we arrived at King’s Cross Station mid-afternoon.I hadn’t checked the train schedules. “They probably leave every hour,” Itold David and Katie. We got to the ticket booth fifteen minutes before thelast afternoon train was scheduled to leave. “Three tickets, please,” I said. “Madam, you’d do better with a family pass,” the man behind thewicket said as he handed me a pass that was half the cost. On the platform, the conductor called out, “Please be quick. The trainis about to leave.” David and Katie lifted their bags three feet up into the carriage andscrambled up the metal steps. My bag wobbled and caught on the opendoor. David reached down and pulled on the handle. “You’re great, David.Thanks for the help,” I said. I climbed into the carriage. “Take half as manyclothes as you think you’ll need, and twice as much money,” I rememberedmy friend Ruth saying before we left. The next morning, Michael arrived in a rented car and we startedto explore southern England. At Cheddar Gorge, Michael parked the car atthe side of the road beneath the jagged cliffs. We stood there for a whilewith our heads bent back as far as they would go. We turned in circles totake it all in.
“Bullies” 96byNancy Knight In minutes, we realized Katie was gone. She had climbed up andalong the steep rock face to a ledge about fifty feet above the floor of thenarrow canyon. I held my breath as David took a photograph. Then,quickly and gingerly, Katie climbed back down. We visited Stonehenge and stopped for Devon cream and scones. Wedrove along the channel coast. Days later, back in London, we boarded ahigh speed train and rode through the channel tunnel to Paris. That evening, we stood on the balcony at our hotel and stared atLa Tour Eiffel. It was glowing brilliantly, like a golden sceptre rising towardsthe starlit sky. “Wow, look how tall it is,” David said. His eyes were widewith surprise. Katie was the first to agree when we asked if we should ridethe sloping elevators to the observation deck. That girl has a lot of spiritand a lot of courage, I told myself. We walked to the Louvre and along the Seine to Notre DameCathedral. Michael waved for a taxi and we headed for lunch on theChamps-Élysées. We laughed together at our humbling clumsiness when wetried our French in the souvenir shops. Then, we were on another high speed train to Nice, a popular touristdestination on the southern coast. The elevator at the small hotel wascovered in cobwebs and chalky dust. “L’ascenseur ne marche pas,” the ladybehind the desk said. We carried our luggage up three flights of steps. We walked along the black pebble beach and bought chocolate coveredalmonds on the Promenade des Anglais. Soon, we started looking for arestaurant. I imagined the four of us sitting under a huge, floppy umbrella,digging into plates of superb French cuisine. “We’ll get to try all sorts ofdifferent foods,” I had said back home, before we left. But within blocks ofthe Promenade, David saw the bright, golden arches. “We want McDonald’s!” both hungry teenagers said at once. I moaned, “We’ve been to every McDonald’s in England and France!” Michael looked at me and shrugged as we walked through the doorsand up to the counter. There wasn’t a word of English in the restaurant. “Does anyone know how to say Big Mac in French?” I looked at theothers. The two children had been studying French since they were inMontessori school.
“Bullies” 97byNancy Knight “No, we’ll say it in English,” David said. A sweet young lady, just alittle older than David was, greeted him in French. “One Big Mac, a large fries, and a large Coke,” he recited. The prettyteenager stared at him blankly. David shuffled a bit. “One Big Mac, a large fries, and a large Coke,” hesaid again. The girl turned around abruptly and walked towards the rear ofthe store. Moments later, she returned with a tall gentleman wearing a whiteshirt and a striped tie. “May I assist you?” he said to us all, in barelyunderstandable English. I think we all decided at the same time, to keep it simple. Each of usordered one Big Mac, a large fries, and a large Coke. Early the next morning, the woman behind the counter in the trainstation grimaced. “Eight is good, nine is not good,” she said. “Eight o’clock then,” Michael said. He reached for our tickets for theearly train to Florence. It was seven forty-five in the morning. We walkedto the platform and boarded the train. It was packed solid. We stoodcrammed together in the space between the carriages. She must havemeant to say, “Eight is bad, nine is good,” I thought as we struggled to holdour footing on the lurching, trembling train. Forty-five minutes later,hundreds of harried early morning commuters pushed their way around usand left the train at the last town before the Italian border. As soon as we could get into a carriage, the conductor checked ourfirst class tickets and opened some of the windows. The cool Mediterraneanair washed over us. We let ourselves snuggle into the soft seats. This isn’tso difficult, I thought, as I watched David and Katie peer out at the coastalmountains, the sea, and the red clay roofs of distant villas. Just before noon, David and Katie started getting restless. “Why don’tyou walk up and down the train?” I suggested. They both lowered the backsof their seats and tried to make themselves comfortable by curling their legsup. David rested his shoes on the corner of his seat. “I wouldn’t keep yourshoes up like that. They’re pretty fussy in this country,” I warned. Just then, the conductor walked through the carriage. He saidsomething to David in Italian, pointed at his shoes, and gestured towards
“Bullies” 98byNancy Knightthe floor. “See, I told you. He wants you to get your shoes off thefurniture,” I said. David sat up and put his feet on the floor. We arrived in Florence a few hours later and found our hotel across theroad from the station. David and Katie stood near us on the sidewalk asMichael checked to make sure we had the right address. A fragile,haggardly looking woman approached me. She looked young and old at thesame time. Her eyes sunk into her smooth face as though she hadn’t sleptin days. She pushed up against me as she moaned and, with her head,gestured downward to what looked like a tiny infant, wrapped in a soft pinkblanket, and nestled into her arm. The woman pressed the baby up againstme, pushing deliberately into my side, as if asking for help. Then shedisappeared. “This is it,” Michael said as he led us into the hotel. When we got toour room, I lifted my suitcase onto the bed, and placed my leather shoulderbag on top of it. Two of its compartments were open, the contents missing. “What did you have in there?” David said. “Just a comb and a package of Kleenex.” “Where was your money?” Michael asked. “In the wallet attached to my belt,” I said. “Do you think that womanhad a real baby?” I asked. “No, Mom, it was a doll,” David said. We spent a day in Florence, took a one day trip to the Tower of Pisa,and then took the train to Rome. In order to leave the platform in Romeand exit the station, we had to walk down one long flight of steps and upanother. I could see the weariness in Michael’s eyes as he glanced at mybag. He had been helping me with my luggage since he joined us. “I’ll takemine this time,” I said and quickly reached for the handle. While Michael, David and Katie carried their bags, I pulled mine. Itmade loud, clunking noises as it hit each step. We headed for the nextstairway. Again I pulled. I was halfway up. The suitcase twisted. Its metalhandle snapped. The oversized case fell backwards and then slid down thesteps. Several fellow travellers scattered to safety. The bag hit the concretebelow. It looked like a disembowelled rhinoceros. “How am I going tomanage now?” I cried as I held the useless handle in my hand.
“Bullies” 99byNancy Knight “Here, you take my duffel bag. I’ll carry your case to the hotel,”Michael said. The hotel we were looking for was the third in a series we had bookedwith the travel agent in Canada. Blocks from the station, we reached adingy, undistinguished wall of worn, dirty red brick. There were several darkbrown doors leading from the narrow road. Rows of shuttered windows linedthe wall above. The door to the hotel itself was halfway along the sombreexpanse of ancient clay. We found the reception desk two floors up anarrow, wooden staircase. “Would you like some orange juice?” the gentleman behind the counteroffered, giving us all a glimmer of hope. Our room was large. On one side, there was a king size and twosingle beds neatly made up with clean linens. The door to the washroomwas opposite. I looked inside. We’d been travelling for three weeks by thenand our clothing desperately needed washing. I was planning on rinsing outsome of them. The sink was so tiny I knew I’d only be able to wash one pairof socks at a time. I looked for a bathtub. Instead, there was a showercurtain stretched across one side of the room. I pulled it aside. One showerhead hung on the wall above a small drain in the floor. There was no ledgearound the shower area; the tiled floor sloped from the far wall towards thedrain. After dinner, I started washing the clothes in the sink with some soap Ihad taken with me: about three dozen pairs of various underwear, soiled t-shirts, and David’s cotton pants with the chocolate stain on the front of oneleg. I noticed the small bathroom was getting warmer as I hung the clothesover the curtain rod. “We should turn the air conditioner on,” I said as I walked into themain room. Michael searched the walls. “There is no air conditioning,” hesaid. “Then let’s open the window. The humidity from the clothes is turningthis place into a sauna.” We went over to the small window on the far side of the room.Michael pulled the panes of glass open. I pushed at the wooden shutters.They wouldn’t move. A hot blast of moist air burst into the room. It musthave been forty degrees outside.
“Bullies” 100byNancy Knight That night, we all went to bed hot and sweaty. I couldn’t sleep. Davidand Katie were breathing softly on the far side of the room. I heard a sharp,metallic bang from the street. Michael, David and Katie woke up. We heardthe crash of glass, and then a scream. “I’m an American! I’m anAmerican!” a woman’s voice called out. Sirens sounded in the distance, gotlouder, and then shrieked from the street below. I jumped out of bed, feltalong the wall for the light switch, and rushed towards the sound. I openedthe window and pushed at the shutters again. They wouldn’t budge. We could hear a woman’s slurred pleas for help in English. A carscreeched to a stop. Male voices, in Italian, were shouting commands. Acar sped away. Then there was silence. It was too hot to sleep. Sweat rolled down and over my body in stickyrivulets. The children tossed and made peculiar wheezing sounds. Michaellay still and silent. “Tomorrow we’re finding a new hotel,” I said. Breakfast was served in a cramped room, crowded with scruffy youngmen and women. None of them looked happy. The toast was cold and thesmall buns were stale. After our meagre breakfast, I pulled the wet clothing off of the curtainrod and packed them into a large plastic bag. Then, we got into a taxi andheaded for the nearest Best Western Hotel. We didn’t care what the roomrate was. Once again, I hung the clothes, over the curtain rod in thewashroom and turned on the air conditioning. That afternoon, we walked along the boulevard until we found aluggage shop. I bought a new suitcase, half the size of my crippledmonstrosity, and with twice the room. When I repacked my clothes, Irealized I hadn’t worn most of them. We stayed for two more days. We hopped on and off the city busses.We walked along the frenetic, circling streets, past the Coliseum, VaticanSquare, and the ever-present graffiti. Vatican Square was crowded withpeople and the temperature continued to rise. We were thirsty and looked for the nearest concession wagon. Wesurveyed the various bottles of soda and water. A large display of plumpgrapes, kept cool under a fountain of sparkling water, rested on an uppershelf. David reached for a bottle of Gator Aid.
“Bullies” 101byNancy Knight “How much are the bottles of water?” I asked. I heard David snap offthe lid of the Gator Aid bottle. “One thousand lira for water, nine thousand lira for Gator Aid,” theman said. He glanced towards David. “Oh, I see,” I said. I took a bottle of water for each of us and handedthe fellow twelve thousand lira. “Next time, it might be a good idea if we asked the price first beforewe opened things,” I observed. “He did the same to me,” a petite woman walked over to us and spokein a whisper. “He charged me twelve thousand lira for a bottle of water andI didn’t realize that was far too much,” she said. We walked into St. Peter’s Basilica, and then waited for two hours inthe line for a tour of the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. “Remember thatpainting,” I told David and Katie as they stared upward at Michelangelo’smasterpiece. Around the corner and down the road from the Vatican, we found asmall family restaurant. Halfway through their pasta, David and Katie saidthey’d had enough. “They’ll be insulted if you don’t eat everything,” Iwarned gently. The two children hadn’t been eating much and I wanted toencourage them to fill up. The plump Italian lady behind the counter peered at us. She said afew words to the slender man beside her. He walked over to our table andgestured towards the children’s half full plates. “You no like?” he said. David and Katie picked up their forks and started eating again. “It’s all very good,” I said to the gentleman and smiled. We went on to Venice. With renewed confidence, we jumped on andoff the water taxis, walked up and over the curved bridges that crossed thecanals, and along the cobbled walkways. We had dinner and listened to apianist play in San Marcos Square. When we left Venice, David and Katie were beginning to appreciate thedifferent foods of the country and becoming more adventurous. Finally, wecould stop looking for the nearest McDonald’s. The children seemed moreconfident and independent. Even Michael seemed more relaxed as wetravelled north to Switzerland.
“Bullies” 102byNancy Knight Lugano nestles into a valley, high in the Swiss Alps, just north of theItalian border. The flagstone roads wind gently through the old village, pastthe immaculately maintained shops, and down to the lake. Spiced meatshang in open shop windows; their pungent aromas drift outward to tempthungry passersby. Steps away, brightly coloured awnings shade displayscrammed with glazed pastries and frosted cakes. We took the funicular rail car to the summit of Mount San Salvatoreand gasped at the scene below. In every direction, the hills and mountainsrose upward. Later we stood on the shore of Lago di Lugano. Its glacialwaters, gossamer turquoise, shimmered in the sunlight. It was a solemn and spiritual experience. Yet updrafts through thevalleys twisted and teased frothy clouds into towering phallic symbols:Mother Nature’s discreet seduction in playful, yet ever proper, Switzerland.I looked over at my husband and was grateful that the hotel had given Davidand Katie their own rooms. Michael and I had a room all to ourselves. Thehotel had anticipated and seen to our every need. Not one detail was left tochance. In Lugano, the precision and the grace of Switzerland merged with itsgrandeur and beauty. The pursuit of excellence mattered. David andseemed to understand and respect the order and dignity of theirsurroundings. They spoke in hushed tones throughout our stay. We allowedLugano to nurture us, to replenish and heal our spirits. We drew our familycircle closer together, relaxed, and grew stronger. “If only everyone would aspire to this sort of diligence and enterprise,”I said aloud, allowing myself, for just a moment, to think about thedifficulties we were experiencing with the school back home. “We can only stay for three days,” I lamented to the matron of thehotel. “That is a pity.” “Yes, I know. But I will be back.” We travelled on. The train took us through the Swiss Alps and alongthe Seine Valley through Germany and then to Holland. We took a boat ridealong the canals in Amsterdam. We visited a cheese factory in the north.Michael and I tasted fresh herrings on the shores of the IJssel Meer, afreshwater lake transformed from the salty Zuiderzee. David and Katie
“Bullies” 103byNancy Knightclimbed up the man-made dyke. “The water’s a lot higher than the roofs ofthose houses,” David said. He looked down at the tidy Dutch houses. “That’s sea level,” Michael explained. “The homes are below wherethe sea used to be.” Then it was time for Michael to return to work in Canada. I hadappreciated his help and I knew I’d miss him. I tried not to seem nervous.I was in a strange country, and did not know a word of Dutch. “What time does that schedule say the next train to Paris leaves?” Iasked David when we arrived at the train station. “One o’clock,” he said. “What number does it say our train is?” I asked, showing him ourEurorail passbook. “It doesn’t say a train number, Mom,” he was twisting his upper lipbetween his finger and thumb. I tried to sound confident. “Ok, we’d better ask someone how thisworks.” I looked around for something official. “That looks like a place toask questions.” There was a long line-up that stretched out the door of the office. Wereached the counter about forty-five minutes later. “I can’t find a trainnumber on this Eurorail pass. Which train do we take to Paris?” I said to thewoman behind the counter. “You have no tickets! You must book tickets days in advance for thesetrains!” she said. “How do I get tickets?” I said. I wondered if we’d have to go back tothe hotel for another few nights until we could book seats. “Here, here are your tickets,” she said. She gave me three slips ofpaper. “You go to platform four.” We passed through Belgium and rode on to Paris. We were going tostay for three more days. We took a bus tour to the beaches of Omaha.David crawled through old World War II bunkers and around deep cratersblown out by allied bombing. He was already familiar with that area. Thecomputer games he played so often at home were all about the battles andcountries of the two world wars. We walked through fields of white crosses that stretched for miles. “Ican’t believe I’m actually here, where Dad died,” one American man sobbedas he walked among the rows.
“Bullies” 104byNancy Knight All too soon, it was time to head back to London and then home. TheCalais train station was nowhere near the ferry dock. “Take the bus,” thelady in the office told us. We hopped on the local public transportation. “Where’s our shopping bag?” I asked after we’d disembarked andheaded for the terminal. “Oh no, it’s still on the bus!” David said. The bright green and yellowvehicle was speeding away from us. “I’ll get it,” David said. He raced afterit. I wondered how he could possibly catch up and how he would get thedriver to stop if he did. But the next stop was only a block away and Davidreached it just as the bus did. Minutes later, he was back with the huge bagof back-to-school clothing we‘d purchased in Paris. By the time we arrived back in Canada a week later, we had alllearned some very important lessons. My young teenagers seemed matureand confident. They had been helpful and co-operative. We’d learned torely on each other. We’d learned to be supportive of our individual needs. For months after, we talked about the many churches, works of art,and landscapes we had seen. We recalled the different people we’d metwho were so helpful and kind, and the others who had disappointed us.“There are all sorts of people in this world. There are bullies everywhere,but look for good people. They’re the ones you want in your life,” I told mychildren.
“Bullies” 105byNancy Knight 14. Katie, tooJust before the start of Katie’s grade nine year, Katie and I went shopping atone of the biggest malls in the area. The fashions Katie chose were trendyand bright, mix and match combinations. When school started Katie had abrand new wardrobe, a cheery outlook--but no friends. “Don’t worry, Mom,”she said, “I’ll meet new friends. Someone will like me.” But Jason and Trevor started at her. They called Katie a bitch, a slut,a whore, and dirty. This happened every day, several times a day. She’dcome home, still happy and confident that first little while. She’d tip herhead to the side, flip her pony tail as if gesturing the boys’ behaviour intothe they’re jerks category, and then she’d tell me what they’d said to her. Katie had spunk in those first days. A girl in Katie’s class told Davidthat she’d seen Katie and another girl building a model boat together. Katiehad done all of the work. Just as she added the finishing touches, the othergirl snatched it. Katie grabbed it back. There was a fight and Katie won. “Katie did that?” I asked David as I wondered about my daughter’ssurprising assertiveness. David was fifteen years old that year in grade ten. His hormones weredoing their most troublesome work on his complexion—his face was coveredin pimples. Time passed while he tried several remedies from the drugstore. Then we were sitting in a dermatologist’s office. One of the mostexpensive ointments David diligently smeared over his face every night tookthe colour right out of a new set of bed linens—but didn’t do a thing for theacne. “I was waiting for the bus,” he told me one day. “There were lots ofkids standing around. Jason walked over to me. He said, ‘Use soap,’ reallyloud and he pointed right at me. Then Trevor came over. Then he came upreally close to my face and yelled, ‘Look at this guy’s zits!’” David’s face turned bright red and then he looked away. I gave him ahug and kissed him right on his spotted cheek. He brightened a little.
“Bullies” 106byNancy Knight “They’ll go away some day. You’re going to be a successful guy readyto take your pick of all the really hot women out there,” I told him. Throughout the next weeks, David told me, he couldn’t walk throughthe halls without Jason and Trevor bringing the acne to the attention ofeveryone nearby. David often stood in the kitchen, telling me about everyhurt feeling, with a composure that astonished me. Why isn’t he angry? Iasked myself. Or is this tearing him apart inside? I had been trying to get results from Mr. Mastroianni for too long, andthough he was the principal again that year, I decided to appeal to Pearson’snew vice-principal, Mr. Matthew Stanton. “Trevor and Jason have beenbothering David, and now they’re bothering Katie, too,” I told him. “I’ll look for them in the halls and see what’s happening,” he said. One day later, he phoned me back—“Katie seems happy,” he assuredme. Then, Katie told me Trevor and Jason were still harassing her. So Icalled Mr. Stanton again. “I’ll look into it,” he said. But nothing changed. Soon, Trevor’s threats were sounding more dangerous. “I’m gonnathrow a flamin’ cocktail through your window,” he told David. The leaves on the trees were changing colour and beginning to fall intodry little heaps on the ground. We were cleaning up after dinner and heardnoises outside. The four of us rushed to the window and saw four figuresrunning away. Then we saw the ball of fire underneath the Purple Sand Cherry bushnearest the wooden deck leading to the kitchen door. I stood at the windowstaring at the flames and watching the thin column of smoke curl up throughthe bare branches. I wondered if they would catch fire. It was like watchingtelevision and waiting to see what would happen in the next scene.Fortunately, the fire went out before it caught the branches or burned thehouse down. The officer arrived soon after I called the police station. “They ran offtowards the house next door,” we told him. The officer told us he was goingover there. Minutes later, we saw his car pull out of their driveway and headnorth towards the village. When he came back, he told us he had gone to
“Bullies” 107byNancy Knightvisit each of the boys, but he wouldn’t tell us who they were. “You shouldget a security camera installed,” he said. “Who did this?” I asked the boy next door when I called later thatevening. “I’m sorry Mrs. Knight. I didn’t know they were going to do that. Itwas Jason, Trevor, J.D. and me. J.D. put the papers there and lit them. Itwas Jason’s idea.” My neighbour’s son gave me J.D.’s and Trevor’s phonenumbers. J.D.’s mom said she’d have a good long talk with her son, John. “I’m not happy with Trevor,” I told Trevor’s mom, Janice Armstrong,after that. “He’s been harassing my son, my daughter, and me.” “They’re bored,” she told me. “Please, just tell Trevor to stay off of our property and to stopharassing my children at school.” On Halloween, someone pounded on our front door. I opened it.Several boys were standing in front of me with their treat bags, pillow cases,held out as if demanding that I fill them. They were all wearing masks andthey were all pretty big guys for Halloween trick or treating. I held thewicker basket in one hand and started to pick out fistfuls of candy. A handreached out for the basket and tugged. I pulled hard, stepped back, andslammed the door. Later that evening, after all of the children had come and gone, weheard shuffling, banging noises on our front porch. When we opened thedoor, we discovered that it was covered with broken eggs and our twopumpkins had been smashed into a sticky, orange smudge. Despite the boys’ behaviour at school, Katie seemed to be doing well;her midterm report was good, so we arranged for a long-awaited reward:part boarding of a horse at the stable where she had been taking ridinglessons. Other benefits went along with her good grades: a bank accountwith a weekly deposit for lunch money and treats, and another shopping tripto the mall for some winter clothes. We were surprised that David’s marks were acceptable. The teacher’sremarks were always positive about his attitude and behaviour. His lunchmoney account worked the same as Katie’s.
“Bullies” 108byNancy Knight David was still having a difficult time dealing with the constantbullying and was letting me know what was happening. He soon came homewith the latest news about Jason’s impact on him. “I just want to eat mylunch and maybe talk to someone,” David told me one afternoon. He saidthat whenever he looked around the cafeteria for a safe place to eat, helooked for a seat near the younger, grade nine students who wouldn’t knowhim. But as soon as Jason noticed where David was sitting, Jason startedspreading rumours. David walked into the school one morning and a girl he didn’t knowyelled out at him, in front of all the other students, “Hey, I know you. You’reDave Knight. You’re the one who’s been stalking my friends.” “They never stop,” David told me. “I’ll call the vice-principal again,” I promised. “Trevor and Jason are still causing trouble in the halls. And Trevor isdoing the same on the bus, every day.” Is he hearing me? I wondered. The trouble on the bus had started again and now it included Katie,too, so Michael was driving David and Katie to school as often as he could.This arrangement was not without its benefits. They could stop to pick updonuts on the way. Since Michael was at the school every morning, he often mentionedthe problems on the bus to Mr. Stanton. But Michael was usually expectedto work ten hour days, so David and Katie had to return home on the bus.Nothing improved until after Christmas when David and Katie started stayingafter school to help set up the audio and visual equipment needed for schooldances, plays and assemblies David told us that Katie rarely helped, but itmeant Michael could pick them up from school on his way home from work. Finally, just three days before Christmas, someone started to paymore attention to Jason. Jason was the subject of a School Resource Team(SRT) meeting. I imagine that the principal, the vice-principal, the schoolsocial worker, and a few of Jason’s teachers might have attended. Themeeting notes mentioned the anger and sense of responsibility the thenfifteen year old Jason Cooke was feeling as he struggled through the firstsemester of his grade ten year. There was no mention of Trevor. For several weeks, Katie stopped telling us what was happening to herat school. I remembered what the social worker I had seen the previous
“Bullies” 109byNancy Knightspring had told me, “Watch out for the quiet ones,” she’d said. Katie didseem happier. She was getting to know some new friends, David said,though Katie never mentioned them to us. According to David, they weresome of the tougher students. We offered to drive Katie into the city as often as she wanted us to.We were hoping that she would want to meet her new friends at their homesor at the mall and we’d be able to find out more about them. But we didn’thave a chance. Katie only saw her friends at school. Then, David started telling us that Katie was missing some of herclasses. Why isn’t the school telling me? I thought. So my next call to Mr.Stanton was about Katie’s absences. Apparently, skipping classes was to beexpected. The vice-principal told me that students often skipped classes andthat he couldn’t monitor students when they had no classes. Mr. Stantoncalled me back days later. He wouldn’t do anything about Katie’s skipping,he told me. “Katie’s marks are fine,” he said. I called Mr. Stanton again. “She’s been smoking at school. She’s notallowed to smoke at home,” I said. “I can’t do anything about the smoking off of school property,” Mr.Stanton told me. After checking with David and Michael, I phoned Mr. Stanton again. Isaid, “She’s smoking at the smoker’s pit. Her dad’s seen her smoking atschool, too. Why on earth is there a smoker’s pit?” I asked him. “There’s no such thing,” he replied. But David had told me about the smoker’s pit. It must have been justafter Jason’s suspension for smoking on school property the year before,that the principal may have decided to give up on enforcing a schoolsmoking ban which was backed up by provincial legislation and a city by-law.Faced with irate neighbours fed up with students throwing cigarette butts ontheir lawns, the principal had an area just outside of the rear doors pavedand thus created the smoker’s pit. The administration may have beenreluctant to acknowledge it, but the smoker’s pit was generally known to bewhere students could congregate and light up. Apparently, teachers andprincipals looked the other way. “How am I supposed to teach my daughter to follow our rules if you lether disobey school rules and provincial laws?” I asked Mr. Stanton one day.
“Bullies” 110byNancy Knight When Katie’s first semester report card arrived in the mail. Katie’sgrades for the term were in the eighties. But shortly after the new termbegan, two of Katie’s teachers called me to tell me that Katie was skippingclasses. Then her latest midterm report card arrived in the mail. Katie’smarks had fallen and there were far too many absences. I talked to Mr.Stanton again. “She’s skipping her regular classes,” I told him. “Herteachers have phoned me,” I said. “What am I supposed to do--be at theschool every day and follow Katie around to make sure she goes to herclasses?” “That would embarrass Katie,” Mr. Stanton replied. “Then you should monitor her attendance and make sure she’s whereshe’s supposed to be,” I told him. “I’ll check into this and see if an in-school suspension is appropriate,”Mr. Stanton told me. “I don’t think that will be very effective,” I said. “At this age,everything she wants, her friends or doing things she shouldn’t be doing,like smoking and skipping classes, is happening at school anyway, so anhour or two in the office isn’t going to bother Katie.” Michael, too, was still trying to get through to Mr. Stanton. He losttrack of the number of times he spoke to the vice-principal about enforcingattendance and appropriate behaviour. At the Parent Night, Katie certainly had her own defences up. Theschool’s cafeteria was filled with parents and students. The principal said afew words and there was a performance by some of the school’s buddingmusicians. Mrs. Rochelle, from the student services office, outlined how ourchildren should choose their courses depending on their future plans. “Notevery student will be interested in going on to higher academic achievement.Some will want to turn to the other important roles in society, like the artsor the trades.” I looked over at my daughter. Though she had wanted to go alongwith us, she was sullen and inattentive. Katie had chosen to wear an oldpair of sweatpants and an old, oversized sweatshirt that hadn’t been washedin weeks. She took her Walkman along with her. She sat with the earphones over her ears and the music turned on throughout the evening.
“Bullies” 111byNancy Knight Just a short time earlier, my daughter had dreamed of becoming alawyer, then a veterinarian. Our past conversations with her about workingtowards whatever future she chose by trying hard at school seemedforgotten. The bright, cheerful girl with her eyes on a professional careerwas gone. Michael and I met with Mrs. Rochelle, the counsellor in the studentservices office. “Jason and Trevor have been harassing her. Now herbehaviour is changing,” we told Mrs. Rochelle. “I’ll speak to Katie,” she said. She phoned me days later and said,“Katie needs to decide which is more important, her friends or her schoolwork.” I called Mrs. Rochelle again a week or two later. “Are you trying toisolate Katie?” she asked me. You’ve got to be kidding, I thought,remembering our unaccepted offers to give Katie rides into the city. Soon, Katie started to lose weight. When I took her to our familydoctor, take it in stride, was his unspoken message. “She’ll start gainingweight when she feels better,” he said. I asked Mrs. Rochelle for help again. “She’s skipping classes, she’ssmoking at school, and her marks are dropping like a falling star.” Icontinued, “She isn’t sleeping. She walks around the house in the middle ofthe night, so Michael and I can’t sleep. She won’t wash her hair. She hasno appetite. Her room is a mess. The clothes we bought are disappearing.She stuffs them into drawers, or wears them over and over, even to bed,” Ilamented. “Can you do anything to help us?” I pleaded. “Have you taken privileges away?” Mrs. Rochelle asked me that day. “I’ve taken just about all of them away.” “Then take away more.” I couldn’t have been more confused. At that point in my daughter’slife, as she began to pull away from us, her need to seek our approval and toearn what privileges we could give her was less important. Family rules nolonger mattered. Katie didn’t care when we stopped paying for her horseand her visits to the stable. She didn’t care about the friends she left behindthere. She just didn’t seem to care about anything.
“Bullies” 112byNancy Knight Yet Mrs. Rochelle didn’t seem too worried. None of the professionals Ispoke to seemed concerned. I wondered if the words I was using todescribe my daughter were any different than those of many other parentsof teenagers. I didn’t have any other words to describe Katie then. Nothingin the parenting teenagers classes I had taken had prepared me for whatwas happening to her. I began to think that I was, indeed, over reacting. Ibegan to doubt my own feelings that something was terribly wrong. I believed Mrs. Rochelle. Mrs. Rochelle’s notes about that lastconversation included this short entry: “parents co-operative”, she wrote. Ireally had no choice. Our household was becoming a never endingnightmare. One evening I discovered that Katie had been smoking in ourbasement. This was after several previous warnings. I packed a few of herthings into a small suitcase and told her that if she didn’t like our rules, shewould have to leave. I pointed to the door. She left. I thought she wouldstand outside for a while, and then come back in and say she was sorry.She didn’t. Katie took her suitcase and walked away from the house. Perhaps I’ve gone too far, I worried. Michael and David went out intothe snow covered landscape searching for her. They found the suitcase nearthe small waterfall beside the road. When they came back without Katie, Ipanicked. I called the police. They searched for Katie almost all evening.They couldn’t find her. I phoned the neighbours and my friends to ask themto look out for her. Katie arrived home at about eleven o’clock that night, cold and wet.She had walked through the village, out into the countryside and back, shesaid. Katie didn’t smoke in our house again. Many years later, we were having dinner with David and Katie.“Remember that night when you kicked me out of the house when youcaught me smoking?” she asked us. “How could we forget?” we said and prepared for the unexpected. “I came back and crawled into the house through the basementwindow. I heard everything that was going on. I climbed out again laterand knocked on the front door.” I felt a strange combination of shock andrelief. Soon after Katie’s walk in the snow, we were looking for help for heroutside of the school. “Look at the cuts on Katie’s arms,” David said. We
“Bullies” 113byNancy Knightwere eating a late lunch in Swiss Chalet. Katie was silent. She had nochoice but to let us take her to the local hospital. After the usual wait in the emergency room, a psychiatric nurseinterviewed Katie and then turned to me, “She’s not depressed or suicidal.Teenagers are often influenced by current music,” she said. She gave methe number of an adolescent counselling agency. The receptionist there toldme they’d call me early in the school year. I wondered how Katie’s behaviour could possibly be considerednormal. Surely she’s reacting to what she is enduring at school, I thought.According to David, Jason was calling him and Katie names all the time. Hecalled out to them from down the hall, across the cafeteria, or in theclassrooms. He searched them out wherever they were. He interruptedtheir conversations with other students. He gestured towards them nomatter how close or far away they were. The language was alwaysdenigrating. I believed it would have been impossible for the teachers orschool administration to be ignorant of this oppressive noise. Why aren’tthey doing anything to stop it? I worried. One of the other students told David what had happened to Katie daysearlier. He had seen Trevor and Jason force Katie against a wall. There wasno escape. They threatened her, “....because everyone hates your brother.He’s a faggot,” the boys said. They moved closer and glared into Katie’sface. Katie never said a word to us about that encounter. Michael and I hoped to get some insight at the next parent–teacherinterviews. We tried to make our appointments with the teachers wethought would be the most helpful. Mrs. Urbain, Katie’s math teacher, wasconcerned. Katie was in a downward spiral. She was known as a skipper.“Do you know who Katie’s friends are? she asked as we sat there bewilderedand feeling helpless. Katie only associated with her friends at school. There had been noopportunities for us to meet them. We said we knew the first name of oneof them was Andrea. “Yes, but which Andrea?” Mrs. Urbain suggested we try to find outwho Katie’s friends were. “But that isn’t the real problem,” we told her. “She’s being abused dayafter day and school administration isn’t doing anything about it.” The physical education teacher also had bad news. “I often see herstanding with a pretty rough group over by the portables,” he said. No matter how many times I talked to Mr. Stanton, I was gettingnowhere. Each phone call was more difficult than the last. I was worriedabout maintaining my composure despite my frustration. I wanted to keep
“Bullies” 114byNancy Knightthe communication cordial, while at the same time, demonstrating theseriousness of the problem. It was making me very nervous. It was time to try contacting Jason’s parents. But there were a lot ofpeople in the phone book with the same last name and I didn’t know hisexact address. David thought Jason was the son of one of the communitypolice officers. I decided to take a chance and phoned him at the station. Iintroduced myself and started the conversation delicately. It only took me afew seconds to realize that Jason was not his son. Frustrated and desperate, I phoned Mr. Stanton. I asked him if hecould give me Jason’s phone number. “We’re fed up. I want to talk to hisparents,” I said. There was a long silence. Then he said, “No, I can’t do that.” “Then will you arrange a meeting between our families?” I asked. “I definitely don’t want to get into that sort of thing,” he said. I’d also been talking to Mr. Weeks about Trevor. That term, David wastaking Mr. Weeks’ Auto Shop class. He seemed enthusiastic at first, butTrevor was there, too. It wasn’t long before David became afraid for hissafety. Trevor continually harassed David, repeatedly pushed him while hewas working with tools. Parts of David’s projects went missing and he laternoticed the same parts had been integrated into Trevor’s and other students’work. During one class, David was using a welding torch. Mr. Weeks rantowards David. He yelled at him to stop welding and quickly removed a trayof gasoline which was dangerously close. Another day, Trevor and hisfriends attached a staple gun to a hydraulic hose and fired it near David,menacingly aiming it closer and closer. What’s going on? Where’s the supervision? I asked myself. When David told me that he was missing some of Mr. Weeks’ classes,I wasn’t surprised. He was trying to complete his work early in the morning,after school, or at lunch when Trevor wasn’t in the shop. I gave him mypermission, and my blessing. Then I waited. It wasn’t long before Mr. Weeks called me. He asked me why Davidwas skipping classes. “I agree with David. He shouldn’t go to any moreclasses than he needs to. He’s afraid to attend your class,” I said. Mr. Weeks called me again soon after. He seemed to want a betterexplanation. “Trevor and some of the other students are doing things inyour class that are dangerous,” I said. I reminded him about the tray ofgasoline. “Oh, the tray had probably been placed there by accident. Provingsomeone put it there on purpose would be difficult,” he said. I wondered if
“Bullies” 115byNancy Knighthe thought that an accident with a tray of gasoline was any less dangerousthan if it was put there on purpose. “Parts of David’s projects disappeared and he told me he saw them inother students’ work,” I added. “I’ll try to give David replacement parts so he can finish his work,” hesaid. “Some kids are harder to get rid of than others, but I don’t think thoseboys will be in the school much longer,” he finally said. Katie’s world began to brighten a bit that spring. As soon as sherealized she had a chance to compete on the school’s high jump team, sheasked us if we would sign the permission form. We hesitated. Hadn’t Mrs.Rochelle asked us to take away all of her privileges just a few weeks earlier?We suspected she was still missing many of her classes. But Katie had been looking more fragile. We hoped that the physicalexertion would improve her appetite and help her sleep at night. We signedthe form. Katie would stay after school for practices and Michael would pickher up on his way home from work. We asked Katie to let us know if she needed a ride the day before or atleast before Michael left work that day. But Katie kept forgetting to tell uswhen she had practices and competitions. When she didn’t come home onthe bus I worried about her but didn’t say anything at first. Michael wasoften arriving home and then having to drive back into the city, rather thanstaying at work and picking Katie up on the way home. Eventually, I phoned the school secretary. “Can you tell me when thetrack and field practices are?” I asked. The secretary told me that it wasKatie’s job to let us know. But Katie often seemed disoriented. I doubted ifshe had the presence of mind to deal with anything farther away than thesame day. Katie did tell us about some of the events. She needed a ride to thevarious locations away from the school. We were there to watch her slenderbody, curved into a graceful arc, appear to float over the silver bar. Thenewspaper photographer covering the meet took Katie’s picture. When itappeared the next day in the city newspaper, we bought three copies. The physical activity seemed to keep Katie grounded through thoseremaining weeks of school. We gave her all the encouragement we could.We bought her a membership at a local fitness club and hired a personaltrainer to help her strengthen her muscles. Yet her teachers and even thepersonal trainer told us repeatedly about Katie’s low self-esteem. She waswithdrawn and unhappy. An undefined anger seemed to seethe within her. Kati had been trying to cope with bullying from all directions, yet wedidn’t know about much of it at the time. It took years before she told us
“Bullies” 116byNancy Knightabout many of the things that happened to her. One evening, we were alltogether, talking about one of the many incidents which had happened toDavid. Then, surprising us all, Katie told us what had happened to her. Katie had walked into the girls’ change room to prepare for herphysical education class. She chose a locker and set her books down on thebench in front of it. She turned to walk over to the water fountain. That’swhen she saw the large, black letters scrawled over all of the walls with athick marker. Someone had written, ‘Die Katie Knight, die Katie Knight, dieKatie Knight”. Katie knew who did it; everyone else knew who did it. Katietold the teacher, but no one did anything about it. Katie had not done well that year. She failed two of her courses andhad to attend summer school. I was devastated. How could it be, I askedmyself, that a girl with above-average abilities, a former "A" student, isstanding there on the lawn in front of the school, untidy and angry, togetherwith many other similarly unkempt teenagers, waiting for a ride home fromsummer school? But by the end of that summer, Katie seemed happier. The dentistfinally removed her braces. Her smile, like David’s had been after his braceswere removed earlier, showed perfectly straight and white teeth. And Katiehad been rapidly growing taller. Her long legs had been shaped with a firmlayer of muscle—a result of the high jump competitions the previous spring,the workouts at the fitness club, and a better appetite. With her thick,brown hair pulled up into a long pony tail, and her smooth complexion,sprinkled with just the perfect number of freckles, she seemed to be ahealthy and attractive girl. Summer school had gone well. That summer, the break from school meant that Katie had to gettogether with her new friends at their homes or ours, so we finally metAndrea Kirby and Tracy Grant. Michael drove Katie into the city as often ashe could and she invited the girls to our house. “They live in ordinaryhouses, Mom. Not big houses like ours,” she told me early on. “That doesn’t matter Katie, it’s the friendship that counts,” I said. Thetwo girls were a bit tough and harsh, but I didn’t say anything about that toKatie. Why is she having so much difficulty connecting with the pleasantyoung girls in Kilbride? I wondered. Katie continued to try throughout thatyear, once accompanying a group of Kilbride girls over to the elementaryschool to visit their former grade eight teacher, but there were no repeatinvitations to join in. David was sixteen that spring. His marks had been good, and he wasold enough to take a Young Drivers of Canada course. He worked on theclassroom material and soon had his first (G1) license.
“Bullies” 117byNancy Knight David was out in the car as often as Michael could accompany him andhis left hand turns were slowly improving. “You’re too wide, you’re toowide!” I’d call out when I was with them, as the deep culverts at the side ofthe roads loomed ahead of us. When school started again in the fall, the usual abuse from Trevor andJason was turning into threatening jibes. David told me he was sayingthings back to them. Other kids were starting to throw him a few verbalpunches, too, David said. He thought it was getting worse because he didn’tdefend himself. “What are you saying?” I asked, trying not to sound too worried. “I tell them to ‘shut up’ and I tell them they’re gonna end up flippinghamburgers and selling French fries.” I thought of calling Mr. Stanton. Whybother? I thought. Maybe if David starts giving the boys the same back,they’ll leave him alone. Katie continued to skip classes. When I called him, Mr. Stanton, whowas the vice-principal again that year, told me repeatedly that there wasnothing we could do. But because of the summer visits to their homes, weneeded the phone numbers of Katie’s two new friends. When I mentionedthe absences to Tracy Grant’s mom, she didn’t seem surprised. “The schoolsends us Tracy’s attendance record every week,”’ Tracy’s mother told me. I called the school right away. “I want Katie’s attendance recordmailed to me weekly,” I told Mr. Stanton. When we finally started to receivethe reports, we offered to restore some of Katie’s privileges if she went toher classes and waited for her to respond. Early in the school year, the lady at the adolescent counselling servicecalled me to arrange an appointment. We were told to wait while acounsellor spoke with Katie. Half an hour later, Katie came out of the room,as silent as ever. After three or four appointments, Katie told us she wasn’texpected to go back. When I called the office later, all they would tell mewas that the counsellor who had seen Katie had left the organization. Then something strange happened. Katie became more independent.She began to take care of her clothes and keep herself clean and groomed.We returned some privileges. But soon, Katie started to withdraw again. She didn’t eat well, andshe rarely slept through the night. Katie’s bedroom was once again adisorganized mess of clothing, garbage, leftover food and tattered books andnotes. All requests for a little cleanliness and consideration were ignored.Her unspoken anger was obvious.
“Bullies” 118byNancy Knight 15. Taking NoteMonths after the School Resource Team meeting in which Jason’s behaviourwas first discussed, a school counsellor started making notes. At 8:45 Jason was in the study area where he would be able to workquietly, without distractions. There were several others in the room. Jasonargued with a student whose CD player was playing loudly. Jason cut inwhen another student was addressed. He lamented and called the teachers,who were also working in the room, names like High Chief and King of theWorld. At 9:00 Jason went to the reading area. At 9:02 he went to thecomputer area. He interrupted the other students, complaining loudly aboutnot being allowed to use the computer. “I can’t stand Mrs. Lawrence,” hesaid as that teacher entered the room. Jason sat at another computer. Mr. Stanton, the vice-principal entered. Jason argued with him. Heordered him to leave. When the vice-principal eventually did leave, Jasonturned the CD player up. Days later, Jason was given an out of school, one day suspension forharassment. This suspension had nothing to do with David or Katie. Wedidn’t even know about it. From our family’s perspective, nothing was beingdone about Jason’s behaviour, or to help and support David and Katie. Wefelt abandoned and powerless to do anything ourselves. But Mr. Stanton was doing something. One week after Jason’ssuspension, the vice-principal wrote that he was going to give Jason onemore chance before there would be consequences for his behaviour. Hetalked to the principal, Mr. Mastroianni, about Jason. The principal said thatif there were no positive results, Jason should be pulled out of the school.The school had been conning his marks on his work, and to his parents. Hewasn’t gaining anything from the help offered to him. Mr. Stanton asked one of the school counsellors to do anotherassessment. Jason was told to do his work in the back room of the studyarea, where it was quiet. That counsellor’s notes confirmed Jason’s erraticbehaviour. Soon, Mr. Stanton started writing his own notes about JasonCooke. One morning, in the study area, Mr. Stanton confiscated a student’sCD player for turning the sound up. Jason walked to the vice-principal’s sidewith his own CD player. He turned the sound up loud. Mr. Stanton askedhim for it. Jason refused and caused a disturbance. Mr. Stanton asked him
“Bullies” 119byNancy Knightto go with him to the back room. Jason set the player down while stillarguing. Mr. Stanton picked the player up and walked to the office. Jasonfollowed him. Mrs. Arnold and Mr. Stanton asked Jason to relate what hadhappened. Jason blamed the administrator, but didn’t mention the CDplayer. He picked up the CD player and left the office with it. He returnedto the back room at the rear of the study area. The vice-principal returned to his table. His science book was missing.Two students in the room told him they saw Jason take it. Jason walked out of the back room. He argued about wanting to usethe computer and about wanting to go to the library. Then, once again, hedemanded to use the computer. Mrs. Arnold gave her permission. Jasonbegan chatting with the student beside him. He was off topic for a couple ofminutes. He continued to do his assignment but then kept asking the samestudent for answers. Soon, Jason was off topic again and talking aloud andcalling to others across the room. At the beginning of period three, Mr.Stanton found his science text on a shelf in the back room. The next day, in the cafeteria, Jason threw an apple at the counsellorwho was helping him. It didn’t hit anyone. The counsellor asked Mr.Stanton to work with Jason. He said he didn’t feel he could help Jason atthat moment. Jason didn’t say a word. He just sat and listened. Later he was with some of the other students and complaining bitterlyabout the “no good teachers”. He refused to do his work in math. “How canI pass if I don’t have a teacher?” he complained. Mr. Stanton made a note that Jason may need to go to the hospital fortwo weeks of screening. He planned to talk to the principal again aboutJason’s behaviour. He wrote down his plans for Jason. Jason’s parentswould be back from their four week trip to Europe in three weeks. Mr.Stanton wanted them to meet with Jason’s teachers to discuss strategies.The vice-principal was going to tell Jason’s parents that Jason needed apsychiatric evaluation. Mr. Stanton noted that, “Other kids in the school are afraid of him andhe’s affecting other students’ education.” His plan was that, in the future,he would connect with Jason’s mom daily. Consequences would be given. Unfortunately, while Mr. Stanton waited for Jason’s mom to return,Jason continued abusing David and Katie. When I read these notes, I feltintensely angry. This process had taken a long time. Mr. Stanton still hadn’taddressed Trevor’s behaviour, either. And meanwhile, my son was hurtingand my daughter was falling apart.
“Bullies” 120byNancy Knight Soon, Mr. Stanton started to pay attention to Trevor Armstrong, too.Trevor was suspended for the first time that spring. “Conduct injurious tothe moral tone of the school,” the form letter stated, the description takenfrom the Code of Conduct. The vice-principal would have phoned Trevor’sparents that day, explaining in more detail than the letter they were toreceive, the reason for the two-day suspension. The victim’s parents, if there was a victim, should also have beencalled. The perpetrator’s name wouldn’t have been mentioned to them, ofcourse--privacy laws prohibited that. That information would be forthcominganyway, when the victimized child returned home that afternoon. We knew that Trevor wasn’t being punished for the hurt he wascausing David and Katie because we didn’t get a phone call. Yet I had beenreporting Trevor’s behaviour for some time, to the vice-principal, with nosuccess. Meanwhile, Jason was becoming an ongoing and continual bigproblem, not only for my children, but for the school’s administrators andthe teachers. Even the school custodian had been constantly cleaning upafter Jason’s mischief. David often told us about many of his conversationswith him. Jason’s mom was supposed to be back from her trip. The school hadbeen trying to get a hold of her but she hadn’t called back. Finally, just daysbefore the end of the school year, the meeting with Mrs. Cooke took place.Mr. Stanton and Mrs. Arnold from student services were there. Severaltopics were discussed. They felt that, with the help of a social worker, Jasonneeded to work on accepting responsibility for his actions and learn how todeal with criticism. He needed to address his strategy of deflecting aproblem by changing the subject. He needed to let issues go. He needed toexplore the reasons for his anger They also discussed Jason’s strengths. He had excellent social skills.He could be kind, sweet, and undemanding. Mrs. Cooke agreed that sheshould have a discussion with Jason about these issues. The next day, Mr. Stanton spoke to Jason and mentioned the previousday’s meeting. But Jason seemed surprised. He hadn’t heard about themeeting at home. His mom hadn’t talked about any of it with him. Five days after that, Jason was suspended again—for three days, for“conduct injurious to the physical well being of others in the school”, as wellas “conduct injurious to the moral tone of the school.” Jason was strugglingacademically, too. Jason failed one course, and he had an unusual numberof marks of exactly fifty percent—a hint that the teachers were, indeed,conning his marks.
“Bullies” 121byNancy KnightDear Teacher, You and I have a challenging job ahead. I’ll be parenting my childrenin the best way I know. You will be their teacher. Our joint effort can bestrengthened with communication, co-operation, and trust. I’ll tell youwhat’s going on in my children’s lives. I’ll let you know if there’s a seriousillness or temporary crisis. I need you to tell me if my children have beenembarrassed, if they’ve been misbehaving, or if they’ve been hurt at school.They may not tell me. Your interpretation of what has happened can helpme decide what to do. Is it just a minor concern of the moment or anongoing problem? Is it normal for the situation or do I need a professional’shelp? Please be clear and forthright. This is my first time around as aparent, and I might not be able to understand subtle or indirect references. If my child is being bullied or engaging in bullying behaviour, we muststop it right away. Having a child who bullies in your classroom is apotential risk to you and others. You should be told who those students are.They need to be monitored throughout their entire educational experience.Their parents should ensure that their children receive the psychological andmedical care they need. For your own wellbeing and that of your students,your union should insist on it. While we are the parents that love them, you will be an enormousinfluence in our children’s lives. We’re in this together, to share the hardwork and the joys of success. Let’s ensure that every child has a safe andcarefree time at school.All the very best,A parent
“Bullies” 122byNancy Knight 16. Getting ToughDavid continued his strategy of returning the boys’ insults with his ownthroughout that fall. It wasn’t working. Trevor and Jason started acompletely new campaign that included me. At home we couldn’t walkthrough the village without one of them making disrespectful commentsabout my visual disability. At school, they started yelling out blind jokes.“You’re gonna be blind just like your mom,” or “Hey, I’m walking into things‘cause I’m Mrs. Knight.” Then they started throwing things. One day, David was sitting at atable with some of the more friendly students. Jason, Trevor, and theirfriends sat nearby. They threw French fries at David and the group he wassitting with. The other students asked David to leave. Trevor and Jasonthrew things at David wherever he went. David later described it as a blurof constant attacks. Then Trevor grew bolder. One morning, David and Steve were ontheir way to class. They passed Trevor in the hallway near the lockers.Trevor called David a faggot. As usual, there were hundreds of studentsaround. David, as part of his new strategy of being more assertive, toldTrevor to shut up. Trevor took a sudden, sideways stride and checked Davidinto the lockers. David went to Mr. Stanton’s office. “Trevor just checked me into thelockers,” David told him. “Steve was there. He saw it. He’ll tell you.” “Ok David,” Mr. Stanton said, “go back to your class and tell Steve tocome down here and see me.” Mr. Stanton spoke to David again later that day. “Steve refused tocooperate, David. He said he didn’t really see anything. I talked to Trevorabout it and told him to leave you alone.” David came home that day, worried. “Trevor knows I reported him.Mr. Stanton told him. He’s sure going to come after me now.” It seemedlike the ultimate betrayal or absolute stupidity. It didn’t take Trevor long. A few days later, David was at his lockergetting ready to leave school. Trevor walked past him. “Hey look, it’sDavid Knight, the faggot!” Trevor yelled out in front of everyone. David continued to try to counter Trevor’s abuse with his wit andsarcasm. “Trevor, you couldn’t even spell college.”
“Bullies” 123byNancy Knight Trevor swung his body into David, pinned him against the lockers,glared into his face, and said, “What did you just say, fag?” David shrunk back. Trevor was much bigger than David and thephysical threat he posed was very real. David said, too timidly to save anyface in front of the after school locker crowd, “Nothing,” and his humiliationwas complete. Trevor strutted confidently away. Mr. Stanton started to write notes almost every day, sometimesseveral times a day. These notes were extensive chronicles of day to daylife at Pearson High School. Mr. Stanton’s days were filled with acombination of mundane incidents, and frequent critical problems. He alsomade note of phone calls to parents about suspensions, about theirchildren’s friends, about behaviour. A student taped someone’s locker (a mischievous trick of stretchinglengths of duct tape, stolen from the shop class, around a locker so that itcouldn’t be opened.) One of the girls had been sending harassing e-mails toanother girl. The vice-principal spoke to a girl about skipping classes. Astudent was kicked out of Linda Sander’s class. One student forged a note.Another young girl informed him that she would not return for semester two.Mr. Stanton confirmed the news with her mother. A parent wanted to know how his daughter was doing. Mr. Stantonasked a dad to talk to his child about lying and talking about other people.Another mother called the school twice. She had been charged with assaultfor hitting her daughter. Mr. Stanton got her the names of a couple oflawyers. There was a meeting with the police and a student’s mother. Mr.Stanton talked to a parent about paying for some broken windows. The vice-principal’s days were filled with this sort of interaction. Veryfew students caused ongoing and frequent concern. But throughout all ofMr. Stanton’s notes, there was a constant theme of difficulty with Trevor,Jason, and my two children. Though other children were included in thoserecords, either as perpetrators or victims, the notes hint at the narrowingfocus, over time, of the aggression by the bullies and their friends, towardsDavid and Katie. They eventually seemed to dominate every page. Trevor and his friend were swearing in Mr. Dupont’s class. Mr.Dupont sent them to the office. Mr. Stanton gave them a detention and toldthem to apologize to Mr. Dupont. After he warned Trevor, Mr. Stanton madea note that he would meet with Trevor again. Later that day, I called Mr. Stanton and told him again that Trevor wasstill harassing David and Katie on the bus rides home. “I will look into it,”and, “talk to Trevor,” he wrote.
“Bullies” 124byNancy Knight The vice-principal met David later and asked him about the problem.David occasionally told me about these little talks with Mr. Stanton. Thevice-principal often passed David in the halls. “How’s it going David?” he asked or “How’re things on the bus, David?”Usually there were other students around. David wouldn’t want word to getback to Trevor or anyone else that he’d been talking to the principal. “Fine,” David replied. The short answer was usually the leastembarrassing or dangerous. Before Mr. Stanton could meet with Trevor about swearing in Mr.Dupont’s class, Trevor was involved in another incident in the same class.Mr. Stanton told Trevor that swearing was not acceptable. Then, he calledMrs. Armstrong. He informed her of Trevor’s behaviour and the possibility ofa suspension. Trevor could be taken off the bus. He set up an appointmentwith her. Then Mr. Stanton decided to suspend Trevor. He phoned Mrs.Armstrong to let her know. He didn’t do anything about the harassment onthe bus. Following Trevor’s suspension, Mr. Stanton met with Janice Armstrong.“She will phone me every week and we will monitor his behaviour,” Mr.Stanton wrote. But there was no mention of David, Katie, and the bus. I was still waiting for something to be done to help David and Katie. Icalled Mr. Stanton to let him know that Katie was avoiding getting on thebus altogether. I could understand why, but I was worried. She hadn’tcome home that afternoon, I told him. He said he would look for her butphoned me back and told me he couldn’t find her. When Mr. Stanton did speak to Katie, rather than making sure sheknew she had to get on the school bus, he told Katie not to use the school asan excuse not to go home. So Katie continued to miss the bus. Then she’dcall us later for a ride home. “What are you doing when you’re inBurlington?” I asked her. Then, Mr. Stanton phoned me. He told me that David was warned notto stand nearby when things were happening that were obviously notappropriate. When David came home, he told me about the gauntlet. A dozen or more students, including Jason and Trevor, formed agauntlet in the hall at the back of the cafeteria. David wanted to passthrough the hallway in order to leave. He stood to the side for a moment,just as Mr. Stanton came along and broke it up. Days before Halloween, Trevor told David he was going to vandalizeour house. I’m going to outwit that fellow this time, I thought. Thatafternoon, I phoned the police. I asked them to make sure Trevor didn’t go
“Bullies” 125byNancy Knightout for Halloween. Miraculously, Trevor, Jason, and their friends stayedaway from our house that evening. Halloween day at the school was eventful. One of the students pulledthe fire alarm and Matthew Stanton was about to have a very difficult day. Icould easily imagine what happened. Nine hundred students had to rushoutside to the nearby field. Fire trucks screamed along one of the busiestthoroughfares in Burlington. They raced south, past the clusters ofresidential and commercial buildings, before turning east into the drivewayleading to the school. Massive residential subdivisions fan out in all directions from Pearson.The sirens would have been heard for miles around. It would have been amiracle if the school board trustee hadn’t been called by neighbours worriedabout safety in the school and whether she was the right trustee for the job.The trustee, too, would have had some concerns about the administration’sability to maintain order. Later in the day, Mr. Stanton informed the guilty student’s mother ofher child’s immediate eight day suspension. When I read this in the courtdocuments, I couldn’t help remembering Stewart Martin’s three daysuspension for smashing his friend’s face in. Was the difference based onthe level of public embarrassment caused to the school? Mr. Stanton didn’t write one note about receiving a call from Mrs.Armstrong or calling her himself, as they had agreed to do at their meeting.Eventually, Mr. Stanton did call Mrs. Armstrong to inform her that Trevorwas about to be suspended again. Janice Armstrong told Mr. Stanton thatshe was aware that Trevor was harassing David. Mr. Stanton warned Mrs.Armstrong about the possible aggression the harassment could lead to.Then he talked to Trevor and warned him, too. Mr. Stanton told them boththat there could be a possible suspension. “Trevor denied it,” his notesread. Later, Mr. Stanton spoke with David and again asked him if the busproblem had ended. Mr. Stanton wrote “ok” in his notes, but he knew thatMichael had been driving David and Katie to school as often as he could, sothe harassment on the bus had abated somewhat, at least in the mornings. The day after that, a girl reported that she was being harassed inperiod five. Mr. Stanton told her to ignore it. He spoke to another studentin the office about what had been happening in that class. “It has to stop,”he wrote. He spoke to David. David confirmed that Trevor had been harassinghim and the girl. The language Trevor was using was vulgar, David told me.Mr. Stanton took Trevor out of the period five class and had him work in the
“Bullies” 126byNancy Knightoffice. But there was no suspension. He still didn’t do anything about thebus. I phoned Mr. Stanton again. I told him I was holding the schoolresponsible for all of Katie’s actions when she was there. Then, Mr. Stantonacted quickly. He asked Marianne Baxter to meet separately with Katie,Andrea, and another friend. Mr. Stanton also had a talk with Katie. Hewrote that Katie had been lying to her parents. She wasn’t involved in thefashion show and the tech group that worked on it. She often didn’t callhome ‘til 10. She’s been associating with students who are involved in dailydrug use at school, Mr. Stanton’s notes read. He needed to get permissionso that Marianne Baxter could do an assessment of Katie’s behaviour. Igave him my permission immediately. The assessment was finally done,almost a year after I had first started telling the school that Katie was atrisk. The next day, a letter arrived informing us that school administrationhad discovered Katie smoking on school property. The Tobacco Control Actfor the Province of Ontario forbids smoking or holding lighted tobacco on anyboard of education property. Mr. Stanton made a note about thesuspension. There would be more suspensions, he noted, of increasinglengths. We took Katie’s allowance away to reinforce this suspension. Theonly money she would have was the money she had been given on herbirthday. She would have to start making her lunch again. Katie was still skipping many of her classes and her grades were stillsuffering. The vice-principal made a note of my concerns in his logs. Then,he met with another student and his mother about attendance. “Read himthe riot act,” the vice-principal wrote. But he didn’t do a thing about Katie. Just two days after that, we received an In Danger letter againinforming us of our daughter’s academic deficiencies. I called Mr. Stantonagain. I wanted him to let me know when he gave Katie an in-schoolsuspension for skipping classes so I would know that he was monitoring anddealing with Katie’s absences. He never called me. They keep telling us, Ikeep telling them, but no one does anything about it, I thought
“Bullies” 127byNancy Knight 17. Never Give Up The absence reports we were still getting in the mail were showing asteady pattern of missed classes. Mr. Stanton warned Katie to stop. He’dwarned her before. But he must have forgotten the note he’d written aboutthe suspensions of increasing length. There were no consequences for Katiethat day. Instead, Mr. Stanton spoke to Marianne Baxter, the school socialworker, again, and told her that the problem was continuing. I phoned him again. I hoped he might take a more involved approachto Katie’s skipping. Her behaviour was deteriorating quickly. It was obviousshe needed more structure and supervision. I told Mr. Stanton that Ithought Katie might be depressed. Later that day, he gave a detention to another student for skippingand told yet another to be off of school property when he was not in class.Then someone was kicked out of Mr. Dupont’s class and Mr. Stanton spoketo the student, told him he couldn’t go back to the class room and gave hima detention at lunch. But there were still no consequences for Katie. At the same time, there was a problem with drugs at the school. Twostudents were caught smoking pot. They initially lied, but then said they’dsold $500.00 worth to other students. One was suspended for three days,the other for five days. Mr. Stanton arranged counselling for both of them.The vice-principal suspected four other students were trying drugs and hewarned them against it. There was no mention of any phone calls to thepolice or to the parents of the students involved. He should have beenworried about Katie. Marianne Baxter wrote a note that Katie was involvedin daily drug use at school. But no one told us that. That same day, I called him again. Mr. Stanton mentioned arrangingan SRT meeting for Katie. Soon after that, Marianne Baxter organized acounselling group for Katie and some of her friends. We were never toldexactly what was happening in that group or which students wereparticipating. We didn’t know that the other girls in the group hadpsychiatric and social problems. I could imagine Katie wondering if her pastmistakes had forever relegated her to the difficult kids category. Finally, Mr. Stanton gave Katie a detention for skipping classes. Hedidn’t tell me that. He didn’t tell me about the students who had beensmoking and selling marijuana, either. He didn’t have to. I had heard the
“Bullies” 128byNancy Knightrumours about drugs at the school from David. I’d been worried for a longtime about what Katie could be doing when she wasn’t in her classes. Then, Mr. Stanton called to tell me that Katie was being suspended forsmoking on school property. Katie stayed at home that day. I told her toclean her room and one of the washrooms. Days later, we received a letterexplaining that Katie was suspended for “conduct injurious to the moral toneof the school”. What’s that got to do with smoking? I asked myself. Just one day? I was bewildered. This has been going on for a yearnow, she’s already had one suspension for it, and he’s given her justanother one day suspension? Mr. Stanton had already had his first experience with Internetharassment when one of his students sent insulting emails to another.Michael and I, however, were only just beginning to understand the impactof cyber-bullying. Children of all ages were learning how to use the Internetand the youthful need to communicate was leading to the development ofever more messaging services. David soon found out about ICQ. “ICQ is ahomophone for the phrase ‘I seek you.’” It’s a text messaging service whichallows users to communicate with one another when added to each other’scontact lists. It was easier and safer for David to socialize online. He actually foundthe other students eager to talk to him without the ever present intrusions ofTrevor and Jason at school. David’s friend, Steve Jessop, also began to take advantage of thisnew technology, but the potential for abuse was obvious from the beginning.Steve was never positive in his communications with David. He constantlysent David messages telling him about how other students hated him. It wasn’t long before Trevor and Jason found out how to get through toDavid, too. They began sending him harassing messages with much moreferocity than they were using at school. We told David to ignore the taunts,but the boys kept sending them. They sent messages to David’s friends andharassed them, too. Many of the insults were vulgar, homophobic gibberish. Soon, Jason and Trevor began to monitor David’s status to find out ifhe was on ICQ and to see what he was typing. When David found out howto block their messages, Jason pretended to be a grade nine girl. BeforeDavid realized what was happening, Jason transferred David’s webpagephoto to his own computer. After several minutes David figured out whatwas going on.???: (4:54 PM) im joelle in grd 9DESSERT VIPER 1%: (4:54 PM) joelle?
“Bullies” 129byNancy KnightDESSERT VIPER F1%: (4:55 pm) Funny, your profile sez you’re 16 and amale?????: (4:55 PM) ha ha you think I put my reall info in there? That’s sickDESSERT VIPER 1% (4:55 pm() You just put my webpage on it!????: (4:56 PM) I know cuz I want to show it off Jason took David’s postings off of ICQ and changed them. He toldTrevor they were written by David and used them to incite Trevor. The nextday at school, Trevor threatened and cursed at my surprised and bewilderedson while Jason stood or sat a few feet away and watched the unfoldingscene. On Valentine’s Day the school was starting to fill up with studentsarriving early. David walked into the front entrance that morning and saw aletter sized poster on the wall in the hallway. When he got closer, herealized that it was a photograph of him. It looked like the photo that Jasonhad taken from David’s ICQ webpage. He was wearing a black cap and a t-shirt with an abstract design on its front. He was fifteen years old in thatpicture. David quickly pulled it off the wall and looked at it more closely. Heread the caption bubble that had been edited into the image. The caption,written by hand and in ink read, “I’m a fag.” “My stomach started to hurt,”he told me later. David hurried towards the office with the page in his hand. When hegot to the hall near the office he saw another photo. This caption read, “Ilike little boys.” He pulled that one down and then, suspecting there weremore posters, he rushed towards the back of the school where he found onemore. He ran into the cafeteria just in time to see Jason taping another oneon the wall. David gathered them all up and headed for the office again. He went to Mr. Stanton and handed the posters to him. Mr. Stantonpromised he would investigate but later told David that he couldn’t find outwho put them up. Later, Trevor told David that he and Jason sent theposter photo off to a website called, Ugly People.com. In Mr. Stanton’s notes he wrote that he met with Trevor and Jason andspoke to them about the posters. They denied it and told Mr. Stanton that
“Bullies” 130byNancy Knight“anybody could have done it.” Mr. Stanton searched their lockers andcompared their handwriting. He gave them a warning. Later that day, Jason and Trevor were caught throwing food in thecafeteria. Mr. Stanton spoke to them and made them clean it up. Otherstudents were caught making a mess, too. They were told to clean up andgiven detentions. Mr. Stanton met with Trevor and Jason again. There had beenproblems in Sinclair’s class. Later that day he met with Jason again. Therehad been more problems in Smith’s class. Mr. Stanton decided to suspendJason for “opposition to authority and conduct injurious to the moral tone ofthe school”. The suspension was for two days. Two days after Jason’s suspension, there was more trouble on theschool bus. Trevor and Jason were throwing grapes at other students. Mr.Stanton sent them home and told them they weren’t allowed to ride on theschool bus for two weeks. Four days later, two students reported that otherstudents were throwing things on the bus but Mr. Stanton didn’t follow up. After that, a female student reported that her locker had been glued.Someone had poured glue into her locker and into her lock. She told Mr.Stanton that Trevor Armstrong was involved. Trevor denied it. Mr. Stantonwarned him. The vice-principal knew how seriously Katie was being affected byJason. I’d phoned him and told him that the boys were still harassing her.When Michael told him about the abuse yet again, Mr. Stanton said that hehoped the problem would soon be solved. He hinted that our children werenot the only ones having trouble with Jason and Trevor. We were then in the fifth year of constant bullying. It was not simplythe insults or rudeness that worried me. As well as the hurt andpsychological damage this constant abuse could cause my son and mydaughter, I wondered why no one was concerned about what this meant forthe bullies. How was this preoccupation with tormenting David and Katieaffecting the bullies’ educations? What did it indicate about the mentalhealth of each boy? Did this harassment foreshadow any potential, physicaldanger to my children? I finally discovered what the school was doing to help Jason when Iread the court documents years later. Throughout that school year, theschool’s resource staff and the administration had been referring Jason forassessment. It took staff five months to start making more notes aboutJason. He was in a spiral of problematic behaviour, socially andacademically. “Can be a real problem,” the notes read. He was taking onlythree classes. One day, he was eating food while working on the computer
“Bullies” 131byNancy Knightin the study room. Mr. Stanton decided to discuss the situation with hismom. “The administration will keep suspending if necessary,” was all hewrote. Jason continued his attacks. Twice on the same day, Katie went to thevice-principal and reported that Jason had been picking on her. Mr. Stanton wrote a note that he planned to talk to Jason, that Katieseemed ok, and that she said it was “no big deal”. I can’t help wondering ifhe’d followed up with Katie in the halls with dozens of students around. Ofcourse she’d say it’s no big deal, I thought. But it was a big deal. For a short while after that, Katie told us abouta few of her more difficult days at school. We didn’t know what to do tohelp. The only power we had over what happened at school was to ask Mr.Stanton to do something. We didn’t have the knowledge, opportunity, orauthority to change anything at the school. Katie asked an older boy, one of the tougher fellows she had becomefriends with, to tell Jason to leave her alone. Katie told us she thoughtJason must have told Mr. Stanton about it. She was right. Mr. Stanton’snotes show that he did warn Jason to leave Katie alone. But Jason went toMr. Stanton later and accused Katie of asking her friend to threaten him.Then, Mr. Stanton scolded Katie for soliciting the other boy’s help. Therewas no shelter for Katie at Pearson High School.
“Bullies” 132byNancy Knight 18. Learning to Behave?According to the notes in the board’s documents, there were ongoingproblems with drugs at the school within days of when Mr. Stanton talked toKatie about a skipped class and gave her a detention. We didn’t know abouteither occurrence. But the school had sent another In Danger letter.Missing assignments were pulling Katie’s marks down from honours for thework she did do, to barely a passing grade because she wasn’t completing allof it. Michael and I thought it was time to have another meeting with Mr.Stanton. We wanted to discuss the skipped classes that were showing up onthe absence reports. Katie attended this meeting with us. Mr. Stanton told Katie that she needed to be responsible for her owneducation. He asked her why she was associating with a young fellow who,he said, had been suspended from school for selling drugs. Then, to oursurprise, he pointed toward the window to a rough-looking young man whowas standing on the grass outside. “He’s been told not to come to schoolduring his suspension and yet there he’s been all day,” Mr. Stanton said. Itwas the middle of the afternoon and I wondered why he hadn’t picked up thephone to ask the police to remove the boy from the property. Later that day, Mr. Stanton called me to let me know that he hadfound Katie skipping classes again. She had been loitering in the conferenceroom. Jason and Trevor had been harassing her there. When he checkedand found that they had all missed a period, he spoke to them about it andtold them to make up the time. We didn’t know until we read the documents that Mr. Stanton alsosuspected Jason had been drinking but let him go because there was no realsmell of alcohol. Later that day, Jason was involved in a conflict withanother student and though Mr. Stanton dealt with the problem, noconsequences were mentioned. Then, Mr. Stanton was told that Trevor andJason had been harassing another student. He wrote that he planned to talkto both of them. After our meeting with the vice-principal, we started worrying aboutKatie’s association with the boy who had been suspended for selling drugs.We needed Mr. Sanders again. It had been years since the children’stherapist had tested David for ADHD. Mr. Sanders realized right away thatKatie showed signs of depression. Arranging the visit to our family doctoronly took a week. Getting to the psychiatrist was going to take weeks.
“Bullies” 133byNancy Knight We found a group called New Beginnings and took Katie in for a visit.She filled out some questionnaires. The tests showed what we knew—Katiewas in deep emotional pain. We drove Katie to the New Beginnings sessions every week. There,we were told, she would benefit from peer support and the guidance of thecounsellor who led the group. The sessions were structured to providesupport for the young teens, and to teach them about the hazards of drugand alcohol use, as well as negotiating and coping skills. Then, we were sitting in the psychiatrist’s waiting room. Katie wascalled in to see the doctor by herself. We sat there, silently imagining thatKatie would be explaining everything to the young, female doctor. Momentslater, Katie was back and we were sent off with a prescription for Prozac. I phoned Mr. Stanton to tell him about the medication. Since Katie’sbehaviour had been unpredictable, I asked him to make sure none of thepills were showing up at school. I remembered the principal’s reaction toDavid’s one a day Ritalin pill years earlier and wanted to make sure therewere no problems. That day, Jason was caught throwing water balloons. Mr. Stantonwarned him and made a note that Jason responded well. When I read this, Iwondered if Mr. Stanton had been distracted by Jason’s behaviour whenKatie went to the office and asked him for a daily behaviour contract. TheNew Beginnings people had suggested the contract would keep Katie ontrack. I’d asked her to see the vice-principal about it. But, a few days later,I found out that there was no daily contract for Katie. I phoned Mr. Stantonagain. “I want Katie on a daily contract,” I told him. That day, Mr. Stanton caught three students throwing more waterballoons. He gave them one day suspensions and phoned their parents. Butthere was no behaviour contract for Katie. Then one of Katie’s teachers phoned me. Mr. Borden, Katie’s historyteacher, had also taught David. He was a great teacher and we respectedhis opinions. “Katie is skipping history class,” he told me. “I’m having a lotof trouble with her when she does come to class. She doesn’t do any of thework. She’s the antithesis of her brother. She’s the kind of girl who will endup on the streets of Toronto if you’re not careful.” I panicked. I started phoning the school again to find out where shewas whenever she didn’t come home with David. The secretary told me shedidn’t know where Katie was. “It’s between you and Katie whether or notshe lets you know where she is,” she replied.
“Bullies” 134byNancy Knight I phoned again and asked for the vice-principal. “Katie could be inToronto by the time you realize she’s not at school,” I said. He set up thebehaviour contract. There were other worries. Trevor and Jason had been spreadingrumours at school that Katie was taking drugs. David had heard therumours and told us about them. And, Bill Ruston, the counsellor at NewBeginnings, was concerned that Katie knew a lot more than she shouldabout drugs. He suggested we take her in for a series of drug tests at alocal medical lab. The results were sent off to Bill. Each and every testcame back negative. At least we didn’t have to worry about drug addiction, but despite theProzac and occasional visits to the psychiatrist, Katie’s mood showed nosigns of improvement. Michael counted the pills and discovered that Katiehadn’t been taking them. When we told her that Michael was counting thepills, the appropriate number started to disappear from the container. Butstill there was no sign of improvement. Fortunately, things were improving with David’s academic progress.We were doing some investigating and discovering what lay ahead for Davidand his dreams of becoming an Air Force pilot. David was realizing just howhigh his marks would have to be in order for him to get into the RoyalMilitary College or university. He increased his focus and spent more timeon school work and studying for exams. The extra work helped. Davidreceived a letter from the principal, congratulating him on achieving honoursstanding. His self-esteem boosted by this success, David tried to socialize a bitmore. He was in the cafeteria with a group of boys who were playingHackey Sack. “A game for two or more who form a circle of play in which afoot bag is passed from person to person with the goal of keeping the bagoff of the floor without using the palms of the hands.”—Wilkepedia. The boys were standing in a circle kicking the ball. Trevor moved inbehind David. He grabbed David and knocked him out of the way and said,“I’m here now, so you’re out.” Soon after that, David invited a student from another school toPearson for lunch. They walked into the cafeteria together. Jason, Trevorand their friends were standing at the far end of the room. Jason yelled,“Hey Dave, is that your new boyfriend?” Jason and Trevor started spittingballs of paper and food at David and his friend. Jason was normally passive and relied on Trevor for the muscle power.But he was getting more aggressive. One morning he started insultingDavid about his acne, again. He threatened David and challenged him to
“Bullies” 135byNancy Knightfight. But though Jason was large and imposing, he was not physicallydexterous. He knew it, and the fight went nowhere. Another day, David was sitting with a girl named Lindsay in the frontsection of the school. Trevor approached them and started swearing atDavid. Lindsay told Trevor to leave David alone. David tried to pretendTrevor wasn’t there. As Trevor turned away he said, “You’re going to getyour ass kicked!” There were other victims, too. Jason and Trevor were involved in anincident with four other students. Mr. Stanton met with them and ConstableSummerly, the school liaison officer. And, in the process of gathering information for our lawsuit, we hired aprivate investigator who interviewed some of the other students who werewilling to help. One of them told the investigator that he had been bulliedmercilessly by Trevor. In fact, he had been assaulted by him on the way toelementary school. His sister, too, had been bullied by Trevor. She stillcouldn’t talk about it, he said. And Trevor and Jason weren’t the only students bullying others.Several days after Constable Summerly was called in, David was sitting inthe cafeteria at a table with some younger students. They were surroundedby three grade ten boys who tried to provoke a fight. David told the mischief makers to leave, but one of them startedhitting one of the younger boys. Another called the other seated student afag. “YOU’RE a fag,” the younger boy responded. The older student startedpunching and shoving. The younger boy stood up and started fighting back.He was overpowered when the older boy punched him in his eye. Davidwent to the office to report the incident. Mr. Stanton gave out a one daysuspension to the grade ten boys. Soon, David received a more advanced license, and that meant hecould drive by himself. With some restrictions of our own along with rulesalready in place with that level of license, we let him drive the family caroccasionally. This brought instant popularity and a few of the nicer boys andgirls from school began showing up at our house. The new found mobilitymeant that the young people could begin to socialize away from the stress atschool. Buying a second car was not a difficult decision to make. The busrides to and from school when Michael was not available to drive, were still aproblem. But what sort of car to buy was more challenging. Safety wasimportant; it had to be a new car with modern safety features. It also hadto be a car David would have pride in. A sixteen year old may believe he isindestructible, but may drive more carefully because he knows the car he
“Bullies” 136byNancy Knightloves is not. With David’s help we decided on a Chevy Cavalier and waitedfor it to be delivered. Soon after the Cavalier arrived, we didn’t have to worry about theproblem with Katie not coming home. She realized the benefits of getting aride home with David: no more harassment on the bus. We saw otherbenefits of having the second car: Michael could be more productive. Hehad been missing many hours of work. But as soon as David started driving it to the school, the harassmentabout the car began. Jason and Trevor researched the cost of the Cavalierand its performance specifications. They researched consumer reports aboutour old car, a Cougar. It was a cheap car, they wrote at the same time asthey sent the consumer reports. “How come your mom doesn’t drive it? Ohyah, she’s blind!” and, “Get a better car.” David had been driving the car to school for less than a week. Afterhis last class of the day he walked towards it to wait for Katie and then drivehome. He noticed the trunk lid was raised and investigated. “Maybe Iforgot to lock it,” he told me later. There was a muffler in the trunk. Thetail pipe was sticking out over the back edge of it. He told me he began tofeel nauseous as he worried about the damage and expense of replacing themuffler. David and Katie got into the car and David turned the ignition key.The car sounded fine—no unusually loud engine noise. He got out andpeered underneath. The tail pipe and muffler were intact. He looked at themuffler in the trunk more carefully. It looked like an old relic that may havecome from the school’s auto shop. It wasn’t long before Jason and Trevor started threatening to damagethe car. David told me that some of the other students warned him thatTrevor had been asking around for a can of automotive spray paint. He saidhe wanted to spray the word fag on the car. Soon after that, David was driving through the village. We had justpicked up the mail from the variety store. I sat in the passenger seat andlooked out through the open window. David carefully slowed down as weapproached the younger children who were walking away from the school. It was difficult to know which one called out the word fag as we passedTrevor’s younger brother and his friend. I was really upset and angry. Itamazed me how far reaching the harassment could be. I asked David to stop at the Armstrong’s house. I rang the door bell.Janice Armstrong opened the door. “Trevor’s younger brother or his friend,I couldn’t really tell which one, but one of them has just been rude to us,” Isaid.
“Bullies” 137byNancy Knight “I keep telling him not to play with Jerry. He’s a bad influence,” shetold me. “I’m sure he’s probably picked it up from Trevor,” I said. I told herabout the harassment at the school, “We’re getting fed up. It’s been goingon for too long. Trevor has been constantly taunting David at school, andnow he’s threatening to damage the car we’ve just bought. Tell Trevor thatif there’s any damage to our car, I’ll know who did it.” “Please don’t shout at me. I’ve had a horrible headache all day.” “I’m not shouting Janice, but I am angry and worried. We have to dosomething about this problem. It’s not good for either of the boys.” “Well we’re doing the best we can. Trevor is seeing a counsellor.We’re trying to get some help,” she said and closed the door. I asked David to drive to the other young boy’s house. His father, atall, imposing man, opened the door. His young son, Jerry, was about eightyears old. He stood behind his massive parent. “You should know that yourson or the Armstrong’s younger boy, I’m not sure exactly which one, hasjust been very rude and I’d appreciate it if you asked him to stop it. I hopeyou don’t mind me telling you but I’m sure you’d want to know.” “No problem at all,” the man said. “Thanks for letting me know.We’re going to have a talk about it right now,” he said as he looked down athis wide-eyed son. Whatever counselling Jason and Trevor were getting didn’t seem to behelping. Soon, there were more resource team notes about Jason. Hisparents were going off to England for six weeks, Jason told the resourceperson in one interview. Who was caring about Jason? I wondered when I read that note.
“Bullies” 138byNancy Knight 19. Summer of FunIt was near the end of June. The kids were writing exams and the stakeswere getting higher. Though grade nine and ten marks may not have beenof great interest to post secondary institutions, grade eleven through tograde thirteen, the year when students would be completing their OntarioAcademic Credits, certainly would be. David was very aware that his futuregoal of being accepted at the Royal Military College and going on to flighttraining in the Canadian Air Force, depended on the subjects he took and hisgrades. “You have to take all the difficult subjects, you have to work reallyhard, and your marks have to be really good,” was the advice of the lady atthe local recruitment office. So David had been studying hard and feltconfident. David had finished writing his math exam. He left the building andwalked outside. Jason, Trevor, and their friends were gathered around thecar. Trevor was yelling at David. Jason was holding a video camera. Therewas spit and a sticky white liquid on the car as well as scuff marks all overthe side panels. Jason seemed to be taping David’s reaction. All the kidswere jumping around with excitement. “Hey fag, act angry for the camera,” Trevor shouted. “I’m not going to do anything for you guys,” David said. Jason started kicking the panels on the car. “Oh yeah, well uh…whatif I did this to it? I bet you’ll perform for our Summer of Fun video now!”Jason said. David turned around and went into the school. He told Mr. Stantonabout the damage and the video. Mr. Stanton went outside and looked atthe car. When he asked the boys, Trevor and Jason denied it. He told themhe would continue to look into it. He confiscated the video camera andwatched the film. All he saw was Jason and Trevor acting up. “There’s nothing on it,” he told David. He ordered the boys to cleanup the mess and they did a bad job of it with paper towels. About three o’clock, Mr. Stanton called me. “There’s been sometrouble today. David’s car has been vandalized but there doesn’t seem to betoo much damage. They were apparently taking videos. I looked at thetape and couldn’t see anything on it. I think the boys may have arranged itso I couldn’t see anything. You know, erased it.” “I hope you’re going to do something about this,” I said.
“Bullies” 139byNancy Knight “Well, you know, if they were to get a suspension it’s too late now. Itwould have to wait until next year.” “Then I want you to make sure you deal with it in the fall,” I told him. “Well, I’ll leave a note for the new administrator but I doubt ifanything will be done. I’m leaving here at the end of June and I’ll be atanother school in the fall. You may want to call the police about this.” “I guess I’ll have to.” “Will you get back to me and let me know?” About forty-five minutes later David arrived home. He took his booksupstairs to his room, changed into old clothes and started washing the caron the driveway. As he washed away the sticky white smears and scuffmarks he realized that someone had scratched an “A” into the hood. Hecame into the house and told me. I took the loaf I was baking out of the oven and set it on the counter.Then I picked up the phone and called the police. Constable Oaklandsknocked at the door an hour later. “I’m going over there to have a talk withthem. Listen, we really need to get this sorted out. I’d like to ask them ifwe can get you guys together for a meeting. How’d you feel about that?” “Well, we’d be a bit uncomfortable with it. It’s not as if we haven’ttried to talk to them before. Their reaction has never been good. But we’lltry if you think it’s the best thing to do,” I explained. Twenty minutes later he was back. “They wouldn’t agree to gettogether. Mr. Armstrong just got out of the shower and he didn’t look likehe was in any mood for talking. That kid really has no respect for his momand dad anyway. He looks a bit menacing if you ask me. I asked him whyhe was bothering David. He said, ‘I don’t like David.’ He said it just asplain as that. His father asked him why he didn’t like David. He said, ‘Idon’t know, nobody likes him.’ I’m going to see the other boy’s parents, too—probably won’t be much different.” I was close to tears. “Listen Constable Oaklands, we can’t handle thisanymore. It’s been going on for so long and it happens so often. It’saffecting our entire family. I’m starting to feel very vulnerable, helpless, andreally stressed. Isn’t this harassment? Can’t you charge them withharassment?” Constable Oaklands drew his lips tightly together. He shook his headslowly. “Harassment’s awfully difficult to prove. I don’t think that’d goanywhere,” he said. On Monday, after a weekend of studying, David drove down to theschool to write his French exam. He chose a seat halfway down a middlerow of desks. Just as the exam was about to start, Trevor and his friend
“Bullies” 140byNancy KnightRyan, entered the room. They quickly sat down in a row beside David.Trevor whispered taunts at David throughout the entire exam. Just as thetime was almost up, he called over to David, “If you call the cops again,you’re gonna end up dead in a gutter.” A half an hour later, David came home. He slammed the back doorbehind him and stomped into the kitchen. “I just wanted to write my exam,”he said. He glared at me as if I had hurt him somehow. My body felt like ithad been threaded into a ball of knots. I called Mr. Stanton. “This is it,” I said after I told him what hadhappened. “After everything you know has gone on, how could you letTrevor sit so close to David in his exam? You should have known somethingwould happen!” “I can’t control where students sit during their exams.” “Good grief, this is enough. I’m taking David out of the school. I’llsend him to another school in the fall. I’ve had enough of this.” “You should talk to Mrs. Rochelle first,” he said. “She’ll help you out.” “Mrs. Rochelle, I really feel we have no choice. The abuse has becometoo much to bear. Our whole family is suffering, not to mention the damageto our children’s education,” I was determined. “Before you go ahead with this, will you let me have a word withDavid? I’ll talk to him and see if we can work something out.” Then I was on the phone to the police again. “I’m getting tired of this.Trevor threatened David in his French exam today. This is very frightening.It’s harassment. I want you to do something,” I told the female officer. “I’ll pay them a visit,” she said. When David went into the school to pick up his report card, he sawMrs. Rochelle at the Student Services office. She asked David to reconsiderwithdrawing. She told him that it would be difficult to sign up for thecourses he would need the following year if he went to another school. Shepersuaded him to stay. Later on that day, David was outside washing the car. It was afterdinner and Michael and I were tidying up in the kitchen. Katie, as usual, wasin her room. David rushed inside through the garage. “Jason and Trevor are coming down the road!” His eyes bulged. Hestared at me. “Well we’ll just have to check this out,” I said. Michael and I headedthrough the garage to the north side of the house. But when we reached thedriveway, Trevor and Jason weren’t there. We walked around the corner ofthe garage and onto the front walkway just as the two boys were
“Bullies” 141byNancy Knightapproaching our front door. David stayed on the driveway behind theCavalier. “So what do you two fellows want?” I asked them. They turned around to face us. “We don’t like the way you’ve beencalling the cops on us. Your son is a fucking tool and he has no friends,”Jason said. Trevor nodded in agreement. “Yea that’s right,” said Trevor. “Listen, David has just as much right to get an education at Pearson asyou do. You’ve got to start leaving him alone,” I said. “He drives too fast and he tried to run us over last week. Yea, so webetter not be hearing from the cops anymore or we’re gonna call them onyou,” Jason warned. “Boys listen. You have to start leaving David alone. He needs to gethis work done at school just like you do. Why don’t you just leave him aloneand we promise he won’t say anything to you? Then all of you can just doyour work.” We were trying to be civil and calm but nothing seemed to besinking in. I got annoyed at the useless and vulgar language we werehearing. Fortunately, the boys appeared to have nothing else to say. Theywalked around us and back onto the driveway where David was still standingbehind the car. When they had almost reached the road, they turnedaround and raised their middle fingers to us all. As soon as I got inside, I called the police again. I reminded the sameofficer about the damage to the car and Trevor’s threats during the Frenchexam. This time the young woman officer said that she would make theboys and their parents go down to the station. We finally got to look at David’s report card later that evening. Themajority of his final marks were above seventy percent and some were intothe eighties. His French mark was interesting. His term marks had beenvery high and, though David failed the exam, his final mark was 72.5percent. I wondered what my mark would have been with Trevor sitting inthe row beside me. At the end of June, there was a promotion meeting in which the schooladministration discussed whether or not Jason should go on to grade 12.His many absences and his failures were discussed. He had no math, exceptfor his one grade 10 credit. Though he had taken only three subjects,Jason’s grade 11 report showed his difficulties: His attendance was aproblem; assignments were not on time and were incomplete. He disruptedthe class and interfered with other students. Jason did not acceptresponsibility for his personal achievement.
“Bullies” 142byNancy Knight David’s life changed that summer. With a car he could visit his friendRichard. Richard and David had lost interest in the Air Cadet group, butcertainly not their love of flying. Richard spent a lot of his time buildingmodels of airplanes and dreaming of becoming a pilot, just like David did. The two boys met occasionally to go to the movies or to spendevenings watching television at Rich’s mother’s house. Katie often wentalong and soon there was a large group of young people connected to oneanother through Richard. These friendships may have been possiblebecause Richard attended another school in the city and wasn’t exposed tothe day to day abuse from Trevor and Jason. Richard had his own burdens to bear, though. He was harassed at theseparate school he attended. His Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) made itdifficult for him to succeed academically. His efforts to make the schoolfootball team got him nowhere. Richard’s home life had been difficult, too. His young, single motherhad been unable to care for him. His father was distant and unavailable.Richard’s grandparents had taken care of him. David and Richard met at Air Cadet camp. The first time Richard cameto visit David at our house he was twelve years old. He was a big, strongboy with a mop of dark, curly hair. It was a hot summer day so hisgrandmother brought him to our house with a swim suit and a towel. Richard was the first to jump into the pool. David took too long to getinto the water for Richard’s liking. “Get into the water,” Richard called out tohim. David waited. Richard got out of the pool. He started pulling thelounge chair David was sitting on towards the edge. Then, with a mightyheave ho, he pulled the chair and David into the pool. “It might be a good idea if the furniture stayed on the deck,” I said. Iquickly realized that this new friend was going to be a blessing and achallenge. We were still worried about Katie. Each of the young people attendingNew Beginnings sessions had their own unique problems. The young peoplein the group, and Bill Ruston, were aware of those individual difficulties, but,because we weren’t part of the group discussions, we parents were not. Sowhen our daughter started to develop friendships with the others, we had noway of knowing where the dangers lay. Katie quickly became friends with two of the young girls, twins, wholived in town. She was soon asking us if we could take her down for visits.Eager to help Katie socialize with others we thought would be experiencingthe same challenges, and confident that with the help of the New Beginnings
“Bullies” 143byNancy Knightsessions they would all be improving their behaviour together, weencouraged the friendship. That summer, there was the inevitable sleepover. Soon after Katiearrived at their home, the twins phoned an older boy who also attended thegroup, and asked him to buy a bottle of whiskey for them. The girls, withKatie in tow, rode the city bus to meet the fellow, paid him for the bottle,and took it back to their house where they hid it until later that night. Then,after their foster parents fell asleep, the girls went outside and spent thenight drinking and sleeping on the driveway of the small apartment complex—in full view of one of the busiest streets in Burlington. Within days, Bill Ruston called us to let us know what had happened.Of course he knew because the young people were talking about it at thenext session. “You must keep your daughter away from the other youngpeople,” he told us, almost too late. That Saturday we were in his officeagain, discussing what to do next. “I know this great guy. He’s a little like a cop, the way he comesacross, but he really knows what he’s doing. I’ll get him in here and youcan come in and meet him next week.” Days later we were all back in the New Beginnings office meetingMitch. I recognized him almost as soon as I saw him. He had led aninformation session for parents that I had attended when David and Katiewere still in elementary school. “Get your kids involved in youth groups orother groups you know are well organized and interesting, before they getinvolved in a group of kids who have problems,” he had said. “And protect your daughters. Dads, tell your daughters what theyneed to know about young teenage boys so they’ll survive high school andbeyond with their self-esteem and their pride intact. I once saw a sign hungout the windows of a local university residence on the first day of orientationweek. It said, ‘Parents, thank you for your daughters.’” Soon after that first meeting at New Beginnings, Mitch was sitting inour family room, talking to all of us. “Have you guys had any experienceswith harassment, isolation, or ostracizing at school?” he asked David andKatie. They didn’t seem to know what the words meant. “Both of my kids have been harassed, isolated, and ostracized foryears—at Kilbride School and at Pearson,” I eventually volunteered. Mitchtalked about ways we could support our children. We’ve been doing that,and we’d have time to do more if we weren’t trying to survive what isalways happening at school, I thought.
“Bullies” 144byNancy Knight Mitch reassured us. Our family was not the most horrible,dysfunctional family in the country, he said. Then he added, “There’s nosuch thing as a normal family.” Katie had failed two courses and had to take summer school again.David drove her to the school in Burlington every morning and picked her uplater in the day. She didn’t seem to be doing any homework or studying forthe two courses yet the report she got at the end of the summer gave hermark as a pass for both subjects. We also kept running into problems with the internet that summer.We often checked our computer’s history and also spot checked ICQmessages. We discovered Katie engaging in inappropriate discussions onICQ. Some boys Katie met in her summer school were leading her intoincreasingly more intimate discussions and Katie was following along. Thenext time Mitch came to the house to see us; he talked to Katie about self-respect and dignity. Katie listened carefully but it was obvious the messagewas not getting through. So Mitch gave us the name of a femalepsychologist. “Please wait here while I have a chat with Katie,” she saiddays later as she left us in her waiting room. Are they talking about the realissues in there? I thought and wondered how much money we weresupposed to spend on professionals who didn’t seem to make a difference. It would be a busy summer. David was going to start learning how tofly. “When he gets his driver’s license, he can start ground school,” I hadpromised. It was time to sign him up at the local airport. “He’ll have to seethe doctor. There’s no sense dreaming about becoming a pilot if he can’tpass the medical,” I insisted. He passed the medical. Michael decided totake the course, too, so father and son went off to the classes together oncea week. By the end of that summer, David had his ground school certificatein his hand.
“Bullies” 145byNancy Knight 20. Getting Katie Out Before the start of Katie’s grade eleven year, I called the office. Mrs.Grenville, the new vice-principal, sounded surprised when I asked her if Icould go in to see her about Katie. If there had been any discussion at anearlier review meeting about how Trevor and Jason were treating Katie, shedidn’t tell me. “When would you like to make an appointment?” she asked. “Right now,” I said. We were in her office an hour later. “Katie has had a difficult time here at Pearson. A psychologist tells usthat Katie has signs of depression. She’s been acting out.” I thought about what I had been told about acting out: “A symptom ofphysical or psychological trauma and pain,” I remembered Mitch telling meweeks earlier. “All children want to behave--if they aren’t behaving, there’salways a reason,” a counsellor had said years earlier. “Katie’s behaviour has been difficult,” I continued telling Mrs. Grenville ourstory. “I’m not surprised considering the abuse she’s been getting here dayafter day. Jason and Trevor have been picking on her relentlessly. She’s intherapy and counselling sessions as well. She’s getting all the support andguidance we can possibly give her. We’re starting to see results. But it’stime the school started helping us out here. “We need the harassment by Trevor and Jason to stop. Katie needsmore supervision and structure. She’s been skipping. I want Katie’sattendance supervised. She needs to be on an attendance and homeworkcontract. I want a report sent home to me weekly. Suspend her and tell meimmediately if Katie skips even one class. If Katie doesn’t start attendingher classes, we will withdraw her from the school. She was allowed tosmoke on school property for months before anything was done. Many ofthe students were. That should be stopped, too.” Katie sat quietly and listened. “Katie, we will give you no warnings. The first time you skip a class,you will be given a suspension. Is that understood?” “Yes Mrs. Grenville,” Katie replied politely. “And I’ll have a behaviour contract ready for you to sign soon afterstart of school. So your behaviour must improve,” Mrs. Grenville said. ThenMarg Grenville made notes about getting a contract ready and to check thatall was progressing well before Katie’s mid-term report came out.
“Bullies” 146byNancy Knight For a very short while after school started, Katie seemed to be on theright track. She said she wanted to get it right that semester. She wantedto be a veterinarian, she told us, and that meant taking hard subjects likemath, chemistry and biology. She went into school early to get help fromher teachers and sat with Michael for hours in the evening, letting him helpher with math and chemistry. “I can do it,” Katie told us. During the first week of classes, David started to drive home at lunchhour rather than stay at school. When he started doing this my heart sank.Things must be really bad, I thought and worried. It took him twentyminutes to drive home. He walked into the kitchen and we had about tenminutes to talk. He kept telling me his stomach hurt and he didn’t want toeat anything. He hardly ate anything for dinner and wouldn’t eat breakfastat all. At the end of each lunch hour, he always waited until the last minutebefore he went back to school. On September 11, David came home after his first class was over. Wewere talking about black cats and the supposed bad luck they were said tobring. Michael called and told us to turn on the television. We watched asthe airplanes flew into the World Trade Centre. The network kept replayingthe film of the horror in New York City. “The world is going to change after today,” I said. When David went to school for his next class, the teachers had set uptelevision sets so the students could watch the coverage of the attacks.David stood with the other students in the front foyer of the school. Trevorand his friends ran up to him and yelled as loudly as they could, “Hey lookDavid, now you can go kill people.” David had often mentioned his dream ofbecoming a fighter pilot. What unfolded throughout that day would onlyreinforce David’s commitment to honour and protect the freedom we allenjoy. Katie, however, was using the distractions of the moment to enjoysome time outside with her friends. That afternoon, she fell in the fieldbehind the school and cut her knee on a rock. When she told the vice-principal, Mrs. Grenville asked David to drive Katie to the hospital. Hewaited with her until Michael left work and met them there. Then Davidwent back to school. Michael waited for the doctor to put stitches in Katie’sknee and then brought her home. Katie missed period five that day while she was at the hospital, but thenext day she missed periods two and five. One week later, five days afterKatie’s first skipped class, Marg Grenville made a note on an attendancereport and phoned me to let me know that she was giving Katie an in-schoolsuspension the next day, her birthday. When we received the attendance
“Bullies” 147byNancy Knightreport in the mail a few days later, we discovered that Katie had missedseveral classes and a lot of her work. Katie was starting to slip away again. We knew David would tell us if Jason and Trevor disappeared for a dayor two during those first weeks of school. Disappeared was the word weused to describe the times when Jason and Trevor were absent from school.Of course we’d never know if the boys had been suspended or if they were illbut it was the closest we could come to knowing if there had been anyconsequences. But by mid September, the boys hadn’t missed a day ofschool and we knew there’d be no consequences--for damaging the car, forthe posters, or for the death threats during the French exam the previousspring. But Jason was getting the attention of school administration and staff.Everyone knew that Jason could be a real problem. Mr. Stanton had sent aletter to Jason’s mom the previous spring. At a summer review meeting,outgoing school administration shared information about Jason with yetanother new principal and vice-principal. The resource staff made notes about Jason. Jason was wandering,and he only had two classes. The resource office made another note. Jasonwas still wandering, there was concern about him being in the halls so much,and he didn’t have a full timetable. They decided to discuss Jason with Mr.Watson, the school’s new principal, and suggest that Mr. Watson meet withJason. Jason was also suspended for harassment. But though Jason wasconstantly insulting Katie, harassing David with comments about the car andcontinuing to damage it by throwing eggs and mucous over it, there was noindication in the notes that his behaviour towards my children was thereason for the suspension. If it had involved Katie or David, I should havebeen called. We were worried about David’s safety but all David seemed worriedabout was his marks. He had a full schedule. He’d decided to take someOAC courses as well as the grade twelve classes he needed, plus Mrs.Vanderbrughen’s grade eleven business course. Katie had been desperately trying to find her way through a maze ofclass schedules that weren’t finalized in time for the first week of school.Mrs. Grenville, after realizing that Katie did not have a full course load,placed her into the same business class David was taking. She phoned meto let me know. I wondered how Katie was going to catch up on two week’sworth of missed classes. What Mrs. Grenville didn’t tell me, was that she also told Jason Cooketo attend that class. Jason was there, sitting with some other boys, when
“Bullies” 148byNancy KnightKatie showed up. David told me later that Jason started to tease him abouthis sister as soon as she sat down. Jason was talking to David, but loudlyenough so that Katie could hear every abusive word. “Your sister’s a realslut, don’t ya think, Dave?” Jason said. Some of the other boys joined in.David told them to “shut up” but they didn’t. Katie stared straight ahead. Katie left the group when the teacher moved the class to the computerroom. When the teacher asked where Katie was, David told her what hadhappened. The teacher didn’t believe the story. She said she thought Katiewas just skipping class. She told David she would talk to the boys. Later,when she saw Katie, she yelled at her for skipping class. When Katie came home she was trembling. She wouldn’t talk to us.She went straight to her room and stayed there until morning. The boys were back in class the next day, but Katie was not. ThoughMrs. Grenville warned Jason about the inappropriate behaviour, there wereno other consequences. When I phoned Mrs Grenville and told her that Iwas concerned, she explained that the teacher “didn’t handle it properly,”and that she would discuss it with her. But Katie never returned to thatclass and started skipping many others. The abuse in the business class distracted us from the worry aboutKatie’s skipping. When the next attendance report arrived in our mailbox,we knew Katie had missed more classes: There were five absences in mathalone. Michael phoned Mrs. Grenville and reminded her that we wanted herto give stiff penalties for Katie’s skipping. Mrs. Grenville got one of thecounsellors involved. There were more notes about Jason. Marianne Baxter was going to tryto get a permission sheet from Jason’s mom. She was soon going to beaway, Jason told the counsellor. His parents were planning another monthlong trip—to England this time. The school needed to know who to contact ifthey had to suspend him while she was away. Someone managed to contact his mom. Mrs. Cooke said that shecouldn’t afford an assessment for Jason, but would support any help theschool was able to give him. Jason was only taking three subjects. He wasstill wandering in the halls. His grades were terrible: Two were in thetwenties and one was zero. The school sent In Danger letters to his momand the resource staff wanted the principal to discuss accountability withJason. Later on, someone noted that Jason was only 16 years old. Within days, Jason was suspended again for conduct injurious to themoral tone of the school. He had been involved with a group of studentswho were harassing others. Later that day, he was given another
“Bullies” 149byNancy Knightsuspension for conduct injurious to the physical wellbeing of others in theschool. Jason tried to put another student into a garbage can. Katie was starting to do everything she could to avoid her classes.Michael and I had asked her several times to bring home the behaviour andattendance contract that Mrs. Grenville had prepared for her, so that wecould check the comments the teachers had written on it, but Katie wouldn’tbring the contracts home. So, Michael drove Katie to school and went insidethe building with her to retrieve the contract from her locker. Katie wasupset; there was a big display of tears and indignation. The attendance record showed a total of fourteen skipped classes.When I read the board’s documents later, I knew that Marg Grenville notedon her copy that she would have to deal with the problem. “Katie, why are you skipping classes?” I kept asking. Katie wouldn’tanswer. “We won’t let this continue,” I told her. “We’ll have to take you outof school,” I said. “You’ll have to get a job,” I warned her repeatedly. “I’d like to go to another school,” Katie told me very calmly andsincerely. After a moment of reflection, she added, “I liked Montessorischool.” “But Katie, there are no Montessori schools for older students yourage. The way you’re going, getting into trouble and all that, we’ll have tosend you someplace where there’s a lot more structure and discipline.” “Then I’d like to go there.” I heard the sincerity again but I couldn’t imagine what kind of schoolwe’d need or where we would find it. A school is a school, I thought. Iwondered what more we could do. There’d been the meeting with the vice-principal, and several phone calls after that. There had been the ongoingwithdrawal and returning of privileges. The school had finally started to giveher a sequence of warnings, detentions and suspensions, all of which didn’tseem to matter to her either. And we knew the harassment was still goingon, because of what David was telling us. Even the antidepressants the psychiatrist had given her didn’t seem tobe working. One day, Michael noticed several small white specks in thegarden underneath Katie’s bedroom window. She had been pretending totake the pills and then throwing them outside to the earth below. Katielooked unhealthy. She still wasn’t sleeping at night. She didn’t eat properlyand must have been ten pounds underweight. I feared that if she caught acold, she would die. We knew we were running out of options and time. For some time, I had thought that I was forgetting or, losing my mind.Money had been disappearing out of my purse for almost a year. I waitedfor months before I mentioned it to anyone, thinking that I just wasn’t
“Bullies” 150byNancy Knightkeeping track. When I did finally mention it to Michael and then David andKatie, no one knew anything about it. Michael and I began keeping ourwallets in our bedroom at night. Katie was still wandering the house and,though I was ashamed of myself for suspecting her, I wanted to be careful. Then, Katie started talking to us again. She told us about her friendTracy. Katie said that Tracy had been making Katie loan her money for along time but Katie was beginning to think Tracy would never pay it back.Katie said that Tracy had also stolen money from her out of their sharedlocker. “I look out for you don’t I? I helped you with your problems didn’tI?” Tracy told Katie. “Tracy was nice to me in grade nine,” Katie told us. “She rescued mefrom being hurt by the other kids. But she takes my money and I don’thave enough for my lunch. Tracy’s really tough. She beat up Andrea,” Katiesaid. Later, Mr. Stanton’s notes confirmed what had happened the yearbefore. There had been a fight between Katie’s two friends, Andrea andTracy. Shortly after the fight, Mr. Stanton spoke to Katie. Katie told himthat she left her classroom to see a friend. She saw the girls fighting. Andrea had somehow disappointed Tracy. Andrea tried to apologize toTracy but Tracy called her a ho, pushed her against a locker, and hit her inthe face. Katie told a teacher right away. Later, she told Mr. Stanton thatAndrea hadn’t hit back. “I’m lucky I didn’t upset Tracy,” Katie told Mr. Stanton. The vice-principal talked to two other students. One girl told him thatshe was lucky it wasn’t her. The other student heard the two girls yelling ateach other. “Tracy was poor,” she’d heard Andrea say. Mr. Stantonbelieved her. He gave Tracy a two-day out of school suspension. Andreawas given a one day in school suspension, for being the victim of an assault. When I read Mr. Stanton’s notes, I understood why Katie had been sointimidated by Tracy Grant. But, we knew nothing about that fight at thetime it happened. We didn’t know that Katie had witnessed the fight or thatshe’d reported it. We didn’t know about her observation to Mr. Stanton thatshe was glad it hadn’t been her. Mr. Stanton didn’t call to let us know. What we were trying to cope with at the time was the drastic andpuzzling change in Katie’s behaviour as she lost whatever gains she hadmade at the Adolescent Counselling Service and sank into the deepest pit ofdespair. Katie had never quite been able to pick herself up from thattraumatic experience, nor had she been able to find the strength to distanceherself from Tracy. And we didn’t have all the information we needed tounderstand or help her. Katie had been under siege from all directions.
“Bullies” 151byNancy Knight What David had told us weeks earlier started to make sense. Heremembered the Saturday Tracy slept over, just after school started. Davidhad overheard a conversation between the girls in Katie’s bedroom. Tracydemanded money from Katie, “…or else my mother will be talking to yourmother…” We hadn’t understood what money Tracy was referring to. But,finally, we were starting to understand that Jason and Trevor weren’t theonly students troubling Katie. I asked her what she wanted me to do. She wanted me to tell Tracynot to call her, but Tracy kept calling. I had to ask the phone company toput our number on a do not call list. Katie asked me to tell Mrs. Grenville tomove her to another locker, away from the locker she had shared withTracy. I called Mrs. Grenville the next morning. We set up a meeting to dealwith Katie’s absences. “You know, she’s still being harassed by Jason andTrevor,” I added. Her notes show that later that day, Mrs. Grenville had achat with Trevor. Her goal was to instil in him an awareness of the group ofstudents with whom he shared the school. She wanted him to work towardsa more positive connection with the other students. But Trevor only gavethe vice-principal “attitude.” I was going to talk to her about Tracy at that future meeting but Idecided not to wait. I called her again. I told the vice-principal that Katiewanted Tracy to leave her alone. “Katie would like to withdraw from therelationship with Tracy and could you please tell Tracy to leave Katie alonefrom now on?” I told Mrs. Grenville. Katie didn’t want me to say anything toget Tracy into trouble. She just wanted to be left alone, so I didn’t sayanything to the vice-principal about the money. “Katie shares a locker withTracy. Please move them away from each other. There needs to be moredistance between them. We still want to apply pressure about Katie’sattendance,” I said. The vice-principal moved Katie and her belongings toanother locker that day. A few days later, Michael called Mrs. Grenville. He told her we weregetting increasingly worried. He wanted to set up an earlier meeting withher than the one already planned so we could withdraw Katie. “She askedme to wait. I told her we’d give it a bit more time,” Michael told me whenhe came home from work. “People are always asking us to wait. What are we waiting for?” Isaid. On the same day, notes were made at the school about building a caseregarding Jason so that they could deal with him when his mom returnedhome. She had gone away on her month long vacation. But the school
“Bullies” 152byNancy Knightneeded her permission to have Mrs. Spencer do academic testing with Jason.Jason was “frustrated with parents,” the school notes read. Our bank statement arrived in the mail. “Nancy, take a look at thesewithdrawals,” Michael said to me one day. I checked the dates. I had beennowhere near a bank machine on those days. We asked the bank to send us the transaction record that indicatesfrom which machines the withdrawals were made. The machines were all inBurlington, near the school. Katie had taken my credit card. She knew myp.i.n. number because she had been with me a few times when I hadwithdrawn money. We compared the dates and times of the withdrawalswith Katie’s attendance report. All of the dates and times of the withdrawalscoincided with Katie’s skipped classes. One of the days she had withdrawnmoney from our account was her birthday, the day she was supposed to bein the school and under an in-school suspension. After we discovered the withdrawals, we asked Mitch to talk to Katieagain. I phoned Tracy’s father and told him what had been happening. Hetold me that they knew Katie had been stealing money from us. He told methey knew the girls had been missing classes and going off together to “dothings.” The reason they knew and we didn’t was because the girls hadbeen coming and going from their home in the city. We had no way ofknowing whether or not Katie was at school during the different periods ofthe day until we received the attendance record. We couldn’t begin to findout what she had been doing and where. Tracy’s dad told me his daughterhad been going to counselling; in fact, he said, she would be going to seeher counsellor that very night. He told us later that he found quite a fewexpensive items in Tracy’s locker at school that she said were bought withmoney Katie had “loaned” her. I told Tracy’s father that we’d appreciate it ifhe could have Tracy pay back some of the money she had borrowed. Wenever received a penny. When her next attendance report arrived, we knew that Katie hadmissed twenty-two classes. We had had enough. We decided to withdrawKatie. We felt it was the only way we could make sure she had thesupervision and structure she needed. We took Katie to the school for theprearranged meeting with Mrs. Grenville. The meeting started off uncomfortably. Mrs. Grenville had apparentlyalready spoken to Tracy Grant. She told Katie that Tracy had had a fewwords to say about her. The vice-principal’s words were judgemental butmeaningless. We had no way of knowing exactly what she was referring tobecause she was so vague. I was certain she had the wrong perception ofwhat had been happening. She started to berate Katie. I considered telling
“Bullies” 153byNancy Knighther that Tracy had been extorting money from Katie but remembered thatKatie had asked me not to mention it. “We think Katie needs a break fromeverything. She needs to rest so she can rebuild her strength andconfidence. We’d like to withdraw her from Pearson,” I told the vice-principal. Mrs. Grenville looked shocked. “Is that what you want, Katie?” Mrs.Grenville said. “Yes,” Katie replied. “We hope she can take some correspondence courses while she’saway,” I said. “Well, there’s the Independent Learning Centre. I’ll write their numberdown for you. They only have a two percent success rate, however,” shefrowned. We signed the withdrawal papers, took Katie to her locker to gether things, and took her home with us. Mrs. Grenville asked the school secretary to wait a week before takingKatie off the school’s roll, “...just in case she changes her mind. Pleaseleave her semester II timetable in place; she plans to return at that time.She will be doing work/volunteer work and ILC. Could you please inform herteachers? She said she would drop her books off at the office. Thanks.” Not once did Katie ask us if she could go back to Pearson High School. Jason was suspended again, for three days, for conduct injurious tothe moral tone of the school – racial harassment. He had never once beensuspended for harassing Katie or David. But finally, Katie was at home withme, resting and sleeping on the couch in the family room and out of Jason’sreach. I felt a calm sense that she was going to be alright.
“Bullies” 154byNancy Knight 21. The InternetJust before noon, the phone in the kitchen rang. “Mom, Aaron just cameafter me with a metre stick!” David gasped. “Are you ok?” “I’m scared mom. What should I do?” “Listen honey, I know you don’t want to, but go to the office right nowand tell someone.”“Ok mom. I love you. Bye mom.” I shivered. David’s goodbye sounded asif he thought it would be his last. After I hung up the phone, I tried toremember what I knew of Aaron Bradford. I had been hearing about him for a while. David had told me thatAaron was about a year older than the other students. He’d already causeda great deal of chaos in the business class. One of the other boys hadpounded his feet hard on the floor behind Aaron’s desk, David told me weeksearlier. Aaron exploded. He threw his desk sideways. In a frenzy ofscreaming and kicking, he sent the bulky contraption scraping across thefloor. “That kid scares me,” the foot stomping boy told David. “His eyes are always red, Mom,” David confided to me at home. The teacher, Mrs. Vanderbrughen, often placed David and Aaron in thesame work groups together with other students. David heard Aaron bragabout how he had nine assault charges and possession against him. “He’sproud of it,” David said. “The other kids and me think his brain’s been friedby so many hits of acid. He’s unpredictable.” David had been skipping business classes so he wouldn’t have to workwith Aaron. The morning he called me, he had attended the class, and theteacher placed Aaron in a work group with him. The other students wereacting up and joking around while David was working on the assignment. Aaron grabbed a metal metre stick and raised it high. “Let me hit youwith this,” he said to David, then added slowly, “Just--once”. He raised themetre stick to swing it at David and lunged forward. David raced for thedoor and down the hall. Aaron chased him until he saw Mrs.Vanderbrughen, and then he turned and ran the other way. David told theteacher what had happened. Then he rushed to the nearest phone to callme. David did what I’d asked him to do and went straight to the vice-principal. Mrs. Grenville listened and told David to go back to the business
“Bullies” 155byNancy Knightclass. Aaron was gone. Later, David walked by the office and saw Aarontalking to her. “They were both smiling, like they were buddies,” David toldme when he came home. Katie was resting on the couch in the family room. She listened asDavid and I talked about that day’s frightening news. “I didn’t know if hehad a knife on him. I thought if he had one, maybe he’d pull it out.” Mrs. Grenville made notes that afternoon. Aaron Bradford had beenagitated by an altercation with the business teacher earlier in the day andhad been in the office, Mrs. Grenville wrote. He seemed unready to returnto class but wanted to go back against the vice-principal’s recommendation.She let him return to the class. After he ran after David, he spoke to thevice-principal briefly. Then, just after noon, he hopped onto the back of hisfriend’s motorbike and left the school without permission. The vice-principalcalled one of the school’s counsellors who had previously been trying to helpAaron. Early the next day, Mrs. Grenville had a meeting with Mrs.Vanderbrughen to discuss appropriate methods of dealing with Aaron’sbehaviour. She told the business teacher that if she sensed that Aaron’senergy level was escalating, the teacher should ask him to leave the classand go to the office. Mrs. Grenville would send him home. This wassupposed to channel his energy. The business teacher told Mrs. Grenvillethat the kids were afraid of Aaron. During second period, just after Mrs. Grenville’s meeting with Mrs.Vanderbrughen, David was walking up the stairs to class. Aaron came upbehind him, pushed past him, and then turned around. He looked straightat David, “If you ever rat on me again, I’ll snap your neck.” He hadn’tbothered to check for a teacher. Mrs. Vanderbrughen overheard him. Sheled him to the office where she told the vice-principal about theconfrontation. The teacher said she’d heard Aaron say, “If you rat on me--I’ll kill you.” The vice-principal called Aaron’s mother. She asked Mrs. Bradford tomake sure Aaron didn’t return to school that day. “Please tell him to meetwith me in the morning,” the vice-principal requested. But Mrs. Bradfordtold her that Aaron wasn’t living with her. He was staying with Mr. Bradford. Mrs. Grenville called David to the office. “How are you feeling, David?Are you angry about all this?” she asked him. David described what had happened: “Aaron left the room and caughtme on the stairs. He said, ‘If you rat on me again, I’ll snap your neck.’” “Did you feel threatened?” the vice-principal asked.
“Bullies” 156byNancy Knight “Yes,” David said. David told her about the drugs that he saw Aaronuse. “He talks about drugs on his cell phone all the time. He stabs kids withpens. He’s unpredictable and erratic. He frightens me and the otherstudents in the class. He gets up and leaves the class for no reason andsometimes he brings a bottle to school and he sniffs white stuff out of it.” “I think it’s time to do something about this,” Mrs. Grenville explainedand then added, “Do you think we should call the police?” “Yes,” David said. Then, Mrs. Grenville called me. “David is all right but he was involvedin an incident with another boy. We’ll take care of this, of course.” One of the female students was upset by what she had seen. She hadwatched Aaron confront David and told the vice-principal. “The guy’s crazy,”she said about Aaron. She described how frightened David had been. Mrs. Grenville phoned the police station and spoke with FredSummerly, the police-school liaison officer. He sent Constable Carson. Heinterviewed David and took a quick statement from him. Later, David sawAaron in the office with Constable Carson. Constable Carson arrested Aaronand the vice-principal suspended him for three days. There were forms to be filled out. The vice-principal sent a note to theassistant superintendent to tell her about the suspension for “utteringthreats against a student.” and “...he had been intimidating other students.”She also filled out a Violent Incident Report which described the metre stickincident. The form would be included in an overall report of violent incidentswhich would be sent to the Ministry of Education. “Aaron was charged withuttering threats and assault,” she wrote. After that, for a while, we had one of those uneasy, yet welcome,respites. For the next two school days and the following Monday, Aaron andJason were both away from the school on separate suspensions. Jason hadbeen suspended for sexual harassment. And, following Mr. Stanton’s last conversation with his mom, Trevorhad been on his best behaviour. Then, on the Monday of Jason’ssuspension, Trevor was in the cafeteria first thing that morning, sitting at atable with his friends. He started yelling insults at David when David walkedby. “Hey, it’s Dave, the faggot!” he said. Then he threw a cup of creamover David’s brand new vest. David went to the office and told Mr. Watsonbut the abuse just got worse after that. Trevor’s bullying was, once again, constant, repeated day after day.“Look, I’m walking into things cause I’m blind like Mrs. Knight,” Trevor yelledin the halls as he pretended to walk into a locker or a wall whenever Davidwalked by. “You’re gonna be blind just like your mother,” he’d call out.
“Bullies” 157byNancy KnightTrevor threw food at David every time he saw him in the cafeteria. He threwall sorts of objects at David in the halls. On Tuesday, Aaron was back in school. “Is he ever scary, Mom,”David told me when he came home. Mrs. Grenville had a behaviour contract ready for Aaron first thing thatmorning. Aaron would continue his business course, but he would work inthe office. “He is not to be within five feet of David Knight nor is he tocommunicate with him, verbally or nonverbally, at any time.” “I’m happy I’m not at school anymore,” Katie said that evening. Nothing seemed to be going right for David that month. His Englishteacher set up a mock election campaign. David and another male studentcame up with their strategy: They would make fun of the “Blue Party” bycampaigning with the slogan “Screw Blue”. David approached a femalestudent in the hall and asked if he could take her picture. She said “no” andheld up her finger just as David snapped the photo. David posted thephotograph in the English room with the caption “This girl knows what tosay: Screw Blue”. David didn’t know it, but the young lady also had a classin that room. When she saw her photograph, she was furious. She sentDavid a string of angry ICQ messages and said she had shown the photos toher mother and would be talking to the principal. After Aaron returned to school, I worried constantly. I started lookingat the phone every time I passed it. I wondered when it would ring again. Ipanicked when it did. I was forgetting things. The dog had been sick thatweek and I’d made an appointment with the vet, but forgot all about it.After several years of telling David’s paediatrician about his stomach aches,she had finally agreed to arrange a test. The appointment was that week. Iforgot about that, too. I couldn’t sleep. My appetite dwindled. I kept takingImodium. I continued trying to get Katie to eat more. Finally, she was gainingsome weight and starting to sleep at night. She spent her days watchingtelevision or reading and I started to think about what she should be doing. David’s life continued to get more difficult. “Why do you do that?People are going to think you’re a fag,” Steve told David all the time. Stevewas still sending David those strange, insulting messages over the internet,about how other students hated him. It was wearing David down. Stevestarted phoning David constantly, asking him to come to his house to drinkwith him. When David said no, Steve became irritable and childish, makingrude noises and saying bizarre things. Once, while David was visiting hishouse, Steve went into his mother’s drink cabinet above their fridge, and
“Bullies” 158byNancy Knightstarted drinking hard lemonade and watching pornography on theircomputer. David left and came home. David told me there were often fights among Steve’s family. As ifthere aren’t fights around here, I thought as I remembered some of thearguments in our family’s daily life. But when David told me about one ofthem, I began to sense there was a big difference. During one visit, Steve started a brawl with his brother over some toyfigurines sitting on a table. Steve’s mother came downstairs, and the entirefamily started yelling at one another. At that point, Steve asked David toleave. There were strange conversations that disturbed David enough to tellme about. Steve bragged about his grade eight, 13 year old girl friend andoffered to introduce David to the underage girls he had met, in person, andon the internet. One day, Steve told David he had received oral sex fromone of the young girls in the park the night before, but that he hadn’t beenable to have an orgasm.“David that’s not right, you know,” I said as casually as I could. I didn’twant to risk closing our lines of communication by overreacting. “A girl thatyoung is so young--too young to make good choices about what she doeswith an older boy. I hope you try to find someone who is your own age andcan make good choices about what she does and when. More important iswhy. I wonder if she’s just searching for attention.” I wondered what thehealthy sexuality courses had been teaching our young people at school ingrades seven and eight. What would Mitch do? I wondered. Mitch had suggested weencourage David and Katie to join a church youth group. “Invite yourfriends along,” he’d said. After the youth group had been going for a while, Katie was joined byChristine’s younger sister. Christine had long since stopped harassing David,and her younger sister and Katie were great friends. I suggested to Davidthat he invite Steve to try the youth group and to take the young lady, too.So for a while, they all went down to the church together. One Tuesday evening, the group of teenagers went to Wendy’s.Stewart Martin was there and, against David’s advice, Steve’s friend startedtalking to Stewart. David knew well enough to stay away from StewartMartin. Stewart had continued to intimidate and harass David at school. Hefrequently stood in David’s way and forced him to move. One lunch hour, atthe sandwich shop across the street from the school, Stewart forced David togive up his place in line so that he and his girlfriend could be served first.
“Bullies” 159byNancy Knight The others wouldn’t leave the restaurant with David and he decided todrive off by himself. He phoned us from another location and Michael wentto pick up Katie and her friend. The young lady walked home later, byherself. Steve left separately. David didn’t take Steve or his girlfriend toyouth group again. A few days after that, a student David didn’t know called out to him inthe cafeteria, “Hey David, you’re famous!” Days later, another student called out, “Hey David, there’s a websiteabout you!” Steve seemed to know what was going on. David asked him for whathe knew, but for days, Steve wouldn’t tell him. Then, one evening, Stevesent David the URL link. “Just face it, Dave,” Steve text-messaged him, “noone likes u.” Minutes later, David brought the earliest two pages into the kitchen.On the first page, there was a photograph of David at fifteen years old. Hewas wearing a baseball cap. It was the same photograph that Jason hadtaken from David’s MSN page. The one Jason had posted on the walls of theschool the previous year. I turned to the second page. “Tell your friends what you think ofDave Knight!” it invited. There were only a few entries. Each was prefixed with the apparentidentity of the contributor. “J” - "Dirty fagget get somes friends and thentake a shower and get ur mother some glasses";” maveric” – “learn how tofight back u fuckin pussy then wash ur face and stop using date rape on littleboyz and then takin them in the back of ur car. your dirt and so is ursister...” I tried to think about what it all meant. I couldn’t believe it washappening. How could anyone, especially such young people, harbour somuch hate, and why do they hate us? I wondered. That evening when he came home from work, I showed the pages toMichael. He was silent. I asked him what he could do. Would he call thepolice and talk to them about it, ask them what we should do? He saidnothing. Later, upstairs in our bedroom, I screamed at him, “What ifsomeone wrote this about you? What if they sent it to your office andeveryone could read it? What would you do then?” There was only silence. Our marriage was becoming strained once again. Dealing with theconstant, unpredictable chaos was wearing on us. There were no eveningsout. No guests were invited to our house. We could never be sure of aquiet, uneventful weekend. Michael and I certainly never had the confidenceto go off for a weekend away. We could never know if one of the boys would
“Bullies” 160byNancy Knightshow up at the front door to hurt our children if we went away. We neverknew whether we’d be soothing our children’s injured bodies or brokenspirits, dealing with the police or writing out reports. We were so busy withone child-centered problem after another that we hadn’t had time to takecare of ourselves. Then the abuse was invading our home, coming into ourlives through the new technology of the internet. I called the police station. The desk sergeant transferred me tosomeone in their computer section. I recited the website address to her andthen waited as she brought the pages up onto her computer. “I think I’llpost a notice on this site and let them know we’re watching it,” she said.They never did post the promised note on the website. One week later therewere more entries. About fifteen people had visited the site. David phoned Steve, “Please give me the name of who sent you thataddress?” he said. Steve refused. “I’m going to report it,” David warned Steve. “I’m bein a gd frnd Dave and I gotta tell u no one likes u cus u alwyscll the cops.” Jason was sending David a constant stream of MSN messages. “GetNOS (Nitrous Oxide Systems) put in your car.” David replied, “Why do you have such an interest in my car?” Jason replied, “Uh, I don’t know, maybe because you drive it like afucking Lambourguigni.” Meanwhile, Trevor was acting out more frequently at school. He wasgiven a four day suspension for lighting firecrackers inside the building. Hecontinued attacking David’s friends. One day, he followed David as hewalked through the hall with Amy. Amy was already upset about a personalproblem. She was fighting back tears. As the two young people walked pastTrevor, he looked at Amy and yelled right at her, “fat,” as loudly as he could. Finally, Jason’s mom went to the school and gave herpermission for a psycho-educational assessment of Jason. The school wouldalso review his Ontario School Record. The purpose of the evaluation was todetermine if Jason had Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention DeficitHyperactivity Disorder. Also, he could see the school social worker if hewanted to. Two years after Mr. Stanton first wrote his notes about the angerJason was feeling, and more than a year after he wrote that he’d give Jason“one more chance”, there were once again signals in the school notes that itwould be the last straw for Jason Cooke. There was a series of notes aboutways in which the school could try to support Jason, but then administratorswarned his mom that Jason would have to help himself, too. The school
“Bullies” 161byNancy Knightadministrators suggested that there was doubt as to whether Jason did, infact, have ADD or ADHD. They planned to have Marianne Baxter completean ADHD checklist. Trevor refused to see Marianne. But Marianne had beeninvolved enough with Jason and Trevor. She had begun to hear commentsdirectly related to the internet and the website from the two boys and someof the other students she was counselling. While the school was plodding along, we were feeling besieged. Wedidn’t know how to deal with the constant barrage of abuse. David had totry harder to avoid Stewart Martin; his friendship with Steve Jessop wasbecoming increasingly troublesome, and Trevor and Jason were continuingto harass David and his friends. All of them were becoming moreaggressive. Jason, Trevor and Steve were continuing to send one disturbingmessage after another over the internet. There were threatening messages,too. One evening, Trevor told David that he was going to “render youunconscious.” David wrote back to him that if he did, it would be assault.Trevor wrote back, “I’m a young offender. They can’t touch me. I’ll get asmall fine and nothing else. It will be well worth it to see you unconscious.” Soon after that, we got an offence charge form telling us that AaronBradford, who had disappeared from the school a short time before, hadbeen charged with “the offence of assault with a weapon, uttering threats tocause bodily harm, (and) two breaches of probation.” I wondered why wehadn’t received a similar form about Stewart Martin when he assaultedDavid in elementary school. Had they done anything about Stewart or didOfficer Kennedy lie to us about laying charges? I wondered. David and I tried to figure out what to do about the website. Thenumber of entries had increased and we hadn’t heard anything from thepolice. I tried contacting our service provider. Their website was easy tonegotiate and its instructions about abusive use of their service were clear.But to report, it was necessary to submit the headers from the messages wewere getting. What are headers? I wondered. I wasted more time findingout about headers and then sent them in with a request that the serviceprovider remove the website. I waited almost two weeks for the response: investigations were forthat service provider’s users only. “But this is a Yahoo website,” I moanedin frustration. David kept asking Steve how he found out about the website and if heknew who created it. But Steve was becoming more and more belligerent.He refused to help. David spent days trying to find out how to report anabusive website to Yahoo.
“Bullies” 162byNancy Knight Meanwhile, I had to figure out how to get Katie back on track. Iphoned Susan at Ride Along Stables. “Do you need extra help? Katie needsto be there with the horses. You don’t have to pay her. Just let her work,” Ibegged. Soon, Michael started driving Katie off to the stable each morningbefore he went on to work. About two months later, Katie had a firm layerof muscle and was sleeping well; but David was skeletal. Finally, David found the reporting page on the Yahoo site. I asked himto fill it in and send it. There was a short response that acknowledged oursubmission. One more week went by. There was no answer. The count ofvisitors to the website started to increase more rapidly. The abusive emailsand MSN messages kept coming. I asked David to ignore everything and waited for someone to dosomething. I asked him to remove all traces of himself from the internetand to delete all emails and similar files from his computer. We’ll try toisolate ourselves and disappear, I thought. I knew I was taking away theonly safe social contact with the other students at the school that David had.I felt miserable and alone. I imagined David did too. He did try to ignore what we knew was still there on the internet. Butafter a few days, David went back online. He brought a new printout of thepage to me. It had several more entries, much more abusive and vulgarthan the earlier ones. “Dave is the biggest fucked up fag I have ever met!his mom was on something bad when she had him. U think ur so tough davebut ur not ur a flaming homo.” Just before Christmas, David filled in the abuse report form on theYahoo website again and sent it in. I hoped for the best and waited.
“Bullies” 163byNancy Knight 22. The AssaultIn the New Year, an ADD form was completed for Jason and Mrs. Spencerhad a meeting with him. Mrs. Spencer had been advocating for Jason withhis teachers and he must have felt comfortable enough with her to talkabout his home life. He’d grown up with a lot of criticism, he told her. Sheasked Jason if he would be willing to sign up for the Ontario YouthApprenticeship Program, if he could be sponsored. He told her that he waswilling to do that or try working at the self reliant office which offered moreindependent learning. Mrs. Spencer would ask Marianne Baxter to be an advocate for Jason,while she would check his semester two course schedule and do thetransition needed to get him into either the apprenticeship program or theself-reliant group. He’d need more structure and help with his work, shewrote and placed him on the agenda for the school resource team meeting. During those long evenings, we were checking to see if Yahoo hadtaken the website down. David’s eyes begged for relief as he handed memore pages: “Why don’t you get a real car...how come your mom doesn’tdrive? Oh yea she is blind. Hahahahahah”; “FAG!!!!CUm guzzling queer”. Then we thought we had a breakthrough. Steve told David that astudent they both knew, Mark Johnston had given him the address of thewebsite. Mark told David that he found out about it in the computer lab atschool. He had seen someone working on it there but he refused to tellDavid who that person was. Since the school computers were likelyinvolved, Michael gave the principal a copy of the website. The moreobvious MSN and ICQ interference by Trevor, Jason and their friendscontinued. The visitors to the website and the entries kept growing. For a while, Jason had been telling Trevor that David was insulting himon the internet. That week, most of the students were studying for theirexams, but Jason had little interest in studying. One evening, he sent amessage to Trevor, claiming that it was from David. The message insultedTrevor’s girlfriend. Early the next morning, Trevor started searching the school and askeda student if she’d seen David. “I’m really mad at him,” Trevor told her. David was in the music room with some of the girls who usuallysocialized there. One of them, a girl named Lindsay, had to leave to writean exam. David decided to go with her.
“Bullies” 164byNancy Knight When they approached the locker bay, Trevor was standing near thefirst bank of lockers. David told me later that Trevor’s eyes were wide,glaring at them both. As David and Lindsay walked past, Trevor followedthem. “Oh look, it’s Dave Knight, the faggot!” he called out. Others in thelocker bay started to laugh. David was fed up. He turned slightly. “Shut up Trevor,” he fired backand walked on with Lindsay at his side. He heard Trevor drop his books.Trevor rushed up behind him, positioned himself alongside and grabbedDavid’s shoulder. He wanted him to turn around. But David didn’t turn.Trevor pushed him into Lindsay. She lost her balance and fell. Then, sherighted herself and continued walking down the hall to her exam. Trevor forced David against a locker. David raised his arms to protecthis face. His hat and sunglasses fell to the floor. Trevor slammed David’shead sideways into the metal and waited. When David lowered his arms,Trevor pounded at his face and head. Two older students finally pushed himaway. David willed the nausea back into his stomach. “Now you’ve reallydone it,” he said. He reached for his hat and glasses. David stumbled down the hall to Lindsay’s class. She had alreadygone inside. He stood there for a moment, stunned. He wasn’t thinkingclearly. He was dizzy and feeling sick. He lifted his hand to his ear and thenmoved it in front of his face. He watched the sticky, red liquid ooze downbetween his fingers and onto the floor, and realized he should go to theoffice. Mrs. Grenville called the police. She called Michael. He would have todrive to the school and take David to the hospital. While David sat in theoffice, waiting for his dad, Trevor was taken to another room. He smiled andwaved at David as he walked by the office door. First, Mrs. Grenville checked on David and started to make notes aboutwhat she was learning: David’s cheek bones were sore, and there was abump on the back of his head. Mrs. Grenville thought he’d been hit twice,once on his left cheekbone, and once behind his right ear where there was aswollen bump. There was blood coming from his right ear. He had aheadache. His vision was cloudy. He was not dizzy or nauseous. His pupilswere fine. Then, his headache worsened. His neck felt stiff. Mrs. Grenville asked David for the names of any students who mayhave witnessed the assault. “My friend Tim was there and saw it. I thinkhe’s one of the guys who pushed Trevor away from me. Lindsay also saw it.Another senior student named Ben saw it,” David told her.
“Bullies” 165byNancy Knight Mrs. Grenville called me to let me know that David had been hurt andthat Michael was on his way to the school. She also told me that the policehad been called and had seen David and taken a statement from him. Whenshe was finished, I gently placed the phone back into its cradle but held ontoit. It was my only tenuous connection to my son and I couldn’t let it go. David’s dad arrived at the school, met with the vice-principal and thentook David to the hospital. A physician found a bruise behind his left andright ears and his cheeks were swollen. Otherwise he was ok. At the school, Mrs. Grenville talked to Trevor. He told her that Davidhad been making fun of him on ICQ and called him a faggot. “I punchedhim by the lockers---near the benches.” “Do you realize what you’ve done, Trevor?” Mrs. Grenville said. “Yea, I know. It’s assault.” Mrs. Grenville left Trevor and phoned his mom. “Trevor’s beeninvolved in an incident here at school. He’s assaulted another student andwe’ve had to call for the police. There will most likely be a suspension.You’ll hear more from us as soon as we know more.” Mrs. Grenville started to interview the witnesses. Tim told her thatTrevor was angry and seemed to be planning the attack earlier thatmorning. Todd Palme said, “It happened pretty quick. He gave him a shoveand made some contact. David didn’t say anything. I think Trevor punchedDavid in the head two times. It happened quick. I jumped in the middleand Tim helped pull him off.” Constable Kennedy interviewed Trevor as Mrs. Grenville wrote hernotes. “Trevor, I’m not planning on arresting you right now, but whateveryou tell me could change my mind,” Constable Kennedy explained. “Do youwant to say anything?” he added. “He called me a faggot. I hit him. He’s stupid. He does stupid things--poshy stuff on the internet. Last night he was making fun of my girlfriend,too. I hit him two times. When he wasn’t fighting back, I stopped.” “But Trevor, what’s the big issue between you and David?” theconstable asked. “He thinks he’s better than me.” “What? In your classes? Your schoolwork?” “We don’t have classes together. He wanted me to hit him.” “Why?” “He wants me to get angry at him. He wants us to get in trouble.Early today, I thought, ‘I’m going to look for David today.’ I wasn’t planningon hitting him but I don’t know for sure. I’ve hit people before. I’ve hit oneother person.”
“Bullies” 166byNancy Knight “How do you normally resolve conflicts?” Constable Kennedy prodded. “I make fun of them until they call the police.” “What do you mean? Trevor, are you under a lot of pressure rightnow?” “No.” “So what happens, say, next week if someone calls you a fag again?What would you do? Punch him out?” “I’d do it again,” Trevor admitted to Constable Kennedy. Constable Kennedy counselled Trevor about never reacting whenpeople call you names. “You know the sticks and stones thing? Because,you know, if you can’t control it, there are a lot of things that can happen.Someone could file a civil action against your family.” “I don’t care. I’m not backing down.” Just as she had done when Aaron Bradford assaulted David monthsearlier, Mrs. Grenville sent a memo to Mr. Watson and the assistantsuperintendent, Stella Montrose. She briefly described that David’s injuriesrequired medical attention, that Trevor had been suspended twice before,and that he was presently under a suspension. The process to expel himwas underway. Next, the vice-principal was required to fill out an AggressiveBehaviour Report. “A report of violent occurrence must be included in theOSR for occurrences leading to police contact, suspension or expulsion,” thenote at the bottom of the form read. The report included all the informationabout the assault, Trevor’s suspension and the ultimate expulsion. While this process was unfolding, I stayed near the phone and hopedthat there would be no more bad news. Hours later, Michael arrived at thehouse with David. My young son couldn’t remember where to hang his coat.He couldn’t eat. It was a Wednesday. Mr. Watson must have been sitting at his desk and wondering what heshould do next. He didn’t know what the exact procedure was for initiatingthe suspension and expulsion. He wrote to his contact at the board ofeducation and asked her to explain some parts of the procedure. It was hisfirst time. After his questions were answered, the principal sent a SuspensionPending Expulsion letter to Janice Armstrong. Trevor had been suspendedfor twenty days. Then a Principal’s Inquiry Form had to be completedpromptly. Mr. Watson noted Trevor’s academic record. He’d earned anappropriate number of credits. His averages ranged in the 60’s. Trevor hadtwenty unauthorized absences. Before he’d be allowed back to school,Trevor would have to attend standard counselling plus anger management
“Bullies” 167byNancy Knightcounselling. The principal described the impact on Trevor’s mom: “Mrs.Armstrong appears to be resigned to accept the consequences of her son’sbehaviour.” The principal described the impact the incident had on David: “Thisincident follows a long history of conflict/victimization that David and hisfamily have suffered. They are fed up with it.” The principal may havegotten the time frame wrong with his next comment, but otherwise wasquite accurate: “Coincidentally, the night of the incident, David received amessage that there was a web page (created by Pearson students--unidentified) that was slanderous, Trevor is said to have a copy of thepicture used in the web page.” Michael had given the principal a copy of thewebsite days before the assault. Constable Kennedy wrote up the release conditions for Trevor. Trevorhad to promise to appear at the courthouse. He would be on probation. Hewas to drink no alcohol, take no drugs, attend school, and have no contactwith David in the school or on school property. Had it not been for theschool’s suspension, Trevor would have been back in the halls with Davidthat day. When I read those notes, I knew that Constable Kennedyunderstood how little regard for authority Trevor had and I wondered if hecared about David’s safety. That afternoon, I took David back to the hospital for x-rays. He wasstill feeling sick and dizzy. When I called Mrs. Grenville, she confirmed that David’s exams hadbeen postponed until the following Monday. I told her that I was veryconcerned about sending David back to school. I asked her if Trevor hadbeen suspended and if he would be there on Monday. Mrs. Grenville saidshe had been warned not to tell me that information. She said that whatshe could say was that, if I was to send David back to school on Monday,he’d be safe. Yes, but for how long? I worried. She asked me to be sure toget the hospital report. I thought about the bizarre idea that theadministrator couldn’t tell me whether or not Trevor, who had threatenedand hurt my son for so long, would be meeting him in the halls of the schoolwhen he went in to write his exams. Next, I phoned the board office and asked for the assistantsuperintendent. When she returned my call I told her that I was not pleasedwith the lack of information about whether Trevor Armstrong would be backat school the next Monday. She said she could not give me that informationand said something about asking for an appeal. “We don’t want David to be in the same school as Trevor.”
“Bullies” 168byNancy Knight “You can enrol your son in another school and then withdraw him if theother boy shows up,” she said. That’s crazy, I thought. How would he be sure to get the courses heneeds? “We also have to decide where to place our daughter Katie for the nextsemester. We took her out of the school this past fall because of Trevor,Jason, and their friends. We were thinking of placing her at MM RobinsonHigh School, but what if Trevor shows up there?” I asked her. She didn’tsay a thing. On the same day, I phoned the trustee and explained about thebullying. Of course, I didn’t have access to any of the school’s documents atthat point. “The school has been doing nothing. I can’t find out whether thechild who hit my son will be back at school or when, and I don’t want to takeany more chances.” “I’m in a difficult position here,” she said. “I get these forms on mydesk. The names and any identifying information are all blacked out and I’msupposed to make a decision as to whether to sign them or not. Yet I don’tknow what on earth is going on.” She asked me if we had a lawyer and Itold her we had been asking for some advice. “What can I do about this?” I had asked the lawyer weeks earlier. “Draft a letter to the superintendent at the board’s office asking theschool to take action. Send it to me first. I’ll look at it and return it to youwith my suggestions for next steps.” A few days later, he sent me a letterwith a few suggestions and a bill. One of his suggestions was to go to themedia but I wasn’t ready for that yet. I still thought the police or the schoolwould eventually do something. The trustee told me to make a paper trail. So, that Friday I sat downat my computer and wrote a long letter to the assistant superintendent andsent a copy to Mrs. Grenville. It was a summary of what our family hadbeen going through during those past eight years. It was also a plea formercy. There was no response. That Saturday, David missed his shift at William’s Coffee Shop. Hehad only been working part-time on the weekends for a short while and wasvery happy with his job there, preparing food in the kitchen and occasionallywaiting on tables. On Monday, he felt better and went in to the school towrite his exam. Trevor wasn’t there so there were no distractions, but “I’dlost the edge,” David told me later. That afternoon, the school administration sent a registered letterconfirming Trevor’s suspension to Janice Armstrong. She had moved awayfrom her home in Kilbride and was living in Mississauga with relatives.
“Bullies” 169byNancy KnightDear Trustee, By the time I speak to my child’s teacher about the bullying and waitfor results; then mention the problem to the school’s administration andwait; then work with the resource staff, wait yet again; and then realizenothing is going to change, months have passed. By the time I call theboard office and discover there’s no help there, and decide to call or write aletter to you, months and even years have gone by. By then, I’m desperate.I’m hoping you can act quickly. My child has suffered long enough. One of your responsibilities is “bringing the issues and concerns of...constituents to board discussions and decision making,”(www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/brochure/rhosresp.html). If you’regetting calls and you’ve heard and read articles in the media about the sameissue, you can be confident that the other trustees have, too. You’ll need tobe familiar with the concerns of the day, check the newspapers, and attendseminars and conferences. (If there are conferences, the problem isprobably greater than you think.) To help me and my child, for change tohappen, you must convince most of the trustees that there’s a need forchange throughout the region. Another one of your responsibilities is to explain “policies and decisionsof the board to community residents”. When I ask you questions, you oftenrefer me to staff at the board, but, while most staff are eager to help,knowledgeable and capable, some staff can be difficult to understand,deliberately vague, or downright dismissive. You could help by simplifyingthe educational and legal jargon for me. I want to understand how policiesmanifest themselves at school level where they affect my children, so I cangive you feedback about the effectiveness of those policies. If they’re notworking, I’ll tell you. Then, I want you to do what it takes to ensure that mychildren are safe at school.Sincerely,A Parent or Guardian
“Bullies” 170byNancy Knight 23. Tying Up Loose EndsA week after David was assaulted, I still hadn’t heard a word about thewebsite from the police or the school. I guess we’re on our own, I thought.I knew very little about the internet and realized I needed help. Michael hadbeen working in the information technology industry for years, but evenmore helpful, his brother had completed a Ph.D. thesis on computernetworking just a few years earlier and was working at a university inEngland. My brother-in-law warned me to be careful. “Don’t ask the serviceprovider to take the website down without dealing with the bullies. Theymight replace one website with thousands of others, posted through manydifferent internet service providers,” he wrote. I imagined endless streamsof abuse spread out over the world wide internet and I was stunned. Thepossibilities for public humiliation were enormous. We decided to ignore thewebsite until we could find out who initiated it. When David went back to school following exam week, Trevor didn’tshow up, but other things started to happen. Trevor’s friends started callingDavid “one punch”. They accused him of trying to drive his car into them.“Dave Knight is a pussy who hides behind the cops,” they whispered. Oneday while he was at his locker someone yelled, “Fight your own battles youfuckin’ pussy.” His tenuous friendship with Steve Jessop started to fall apart, too.Steve tried to keep people angry at David for weeks. He started accusingDavid of doing things he hadn’t done. One day, Steve took out somecrumpled history notes and asked the teacher for another set. Mr. Bordenasked Steve how the notes got so crumpled. In front of everyone, Steveaccused David of breaking into his binder, taking out the sheets of paper,crumpling them, and then putting them back into the binder and closing it.No one believed him. Again and again he accused David of going intopeople’s bags and stealing their belongings. Steve went into David’s math class, too. In front of the class and theteacher, he accused David of stealing his math books. Steve said he had
“Bullies” 171byNancy Knightwitnesses who said it was Dave Knight who did it. He demanded that he beallowed to search through David’s bag. He tore through David’s belongingslooking for the non-existent books and then left. The teacher reported theincident to the principal but Mr. Watson did nothing. Steve started calling David stupid. David responded that he wasmaking better grades. Steve said, “That’s because you’re gay and all you doall day is sit at home and study.” Steve constantly criticized David’s fewfriends, the few girls who spent most of their free time in the music room.“Why do you hang out with those girls? They’re fat and ugly,” “Don’t hangout with them, they’re gay,” and “Why do you do that, people are going tothink you’re a fag.” One afternoon after school, Steve Jessop asked David to drive him toan intramural hockey game at a Burlington arena. The two boys watchedthe game for a while, but then David told Steve he had to leave right away.Steve refused to go. David left without him. But, Steve had forgotten hisschoolbag in the car’s trunk. Later that afternoon, he phoned David, whowas already studying at home, and asked him to drive back to Burlington topick him up from the arena. David said he was busy doing his homework.Later, Mrs. Jessop phoned David. She was angry and yelling at him becausehe had not driven back to Burlington. Steve didn’t have his bag and couldn’tdo his homework. Mrs. Jessop gave David no chance to explain and hungup. David drove down to Burlington to return Steve’s bag. Steve approached David in the cafeteria. Several girls sat at a tablewatching, “Maybe if you stop being so gay, I can help you get some friendsback.” Steve told one of the girls from the music room that David had beenspying on two of them when they used the washroom at our house. They’dbeen there to visit a few days before. The impact was devastating andembarrassing to David and his friends. Steve had been to our home severaltimes and knew that there was no way the bathroom rumour could havebeen true. Not content to leave it at that, Steve announced the tale in frontof David’s entire history class. That night David phoned Steve to confront him about it. His mothertook the phone away from Steve and told David that she was sick and tiredof David causing trouble for their family.
“Bullies” 172byNancy Knight David tried again. He phoned Steve. He told him that if he didn’tundo what he had done, he’d be in trouble for slander. “The police can’t doshit to me. Do you know how much I hate you? I hate you with a passion.”Steve hung up. David phoned the police by himself and asked for advice onwhat to do. The officer on the phone told David to take it up with hisschool’s principal. Things were getting out of hand. I called Mrs. Rochelle and asked herto look out for David and make sure that he was ok. That very day, withanother boy’s help, David took Steve’s packsack when he wasn’t lookingafter it, and hid it behind a bench. When Steve couldn’t find it, they let himworry about it for a while, and then gave it back to him. Steve was very upset. He took David’s sunglasses from his head andwalked off down the hallway to the cafeteria with them. In full view of ateacher, he handed the sunglasses to another student. Mrs. Rochelle hadbeen watching out for David and observed this. She reported the incident tothe principal. Mr. Watson arrived and told Steve that he had to compensateDavid for the sunglasses, but he didn’t follow up. When I called Mr. Watson, I didn’t know what had just happened.“The harassment has been allowed to go on for so long, and David is startingto get frustrated and angry.” “Do you mean what just happened this morning in the hall outside myoffice?” “No, what’s just happened?” I asked him. “Oh, never mind. I’ll check on everything and let you know.” I bet, I thought and hung up. David told me what had happened whenhe got home. The boys had been arguing again, right outside Mr. Watson’soffice. Steve had threatened to start a fight with David. David replied,“Steve if I got in a fight with you, I’d flatten you.” Steve started to stalk David around the school. He jumped out fromaround corners, pushed David and said, “Don’t say shit about me,” and thenran away. I wrote another letter to the assistant superintendent and sent a copyto Mrs. Grenville with a history of what had been happening and a recentcopy of the website. They didn’t reply.
“Bullies” 173byNancy Knight Mr. Watson decided that Trevor’s limited expulsion was to be for 102school days, but we didn’t know that. Two days later, Marianne Baxterwrote a note: Mr. Watson needed to see Jason. The first semester reportcards had been given out. Jason’s grade 12 English mark was 25%. Hehad been absent 37 times. His Peer Helper/Human Relations mark was51%. He was absent 13 days. “Well done Jason. Continue to work ondeveloping tolerance for the ideas of others,” the teacher observed. David came within 1% of obtaining his goal of an 80 percent average.He had been working hard, studying diligently, and trying to avoiddistractions. We knew that all of David’s dreams depended on his ability toraise his marks. Later in the month, Mr. Watson and the assistant superintendent,Stella Montrose, met with Janice Armstrong to discuss Trevor’s expulsion,how he was to continue his education, and the anger management resourcesthat were available for him. On the same day, an older student pushed David into a locker andJason yelled, “Stop, or he’ll call the cops on you!” As soon as David camehome and told me, I phoned the school and told the secretary what hadhappened. She wrote a note for the vice-principal, “latest of ongoing saga,”but she didn’t write anything about the assault so Mrs. Grenville most likelynever knew about it and, at the time, I didn’t understand why she wasn’tdoing anything about it. We thought we might go crazy. Then Jason did go crazy. “DaveKnight is a pussy who hides behind the cops,” “Fight your own battles youfucking faggot!” “Learn to fight back, you fuckin pussy,” “Why don’t you fightback you pussy?” “Why doesn’t your mom drive? Oh yeah, she’s blind!”“Fag,” “Homo,” “Mother Fucker,” “Loser,” he shrieked at David in the halls. He kept asking questions about the car. He spread rumours. “Jasontold me that you and him were in a fight at lunch,” one young girl toldDavid. Students, who had been civil, became more aggressive and abusiveand David’s visits to his locker were unbearable. More hateful commentsappeared on the website. “Learn how to fight back” and “you are a dirtyfaggot.” I phoned the trustee again. She told me that the board hadimplemented governance by policy. It was becoming more difficult for
“Bullies” 174byNancy Knightindividual trustees to bring motions forward and to advocate on behalf oftheir own constituents. I sent another letter to Mrs. Grenville about Jason’s behaviour. Shedidn’t respond. Michael called soon after. Mrs. Grenville told him she wason her meeting period and that she’d see Jason before he left school thatday. She told Michael that she or Mr. Watson would call him Fridayafternoon or Monday morning. She wrote Michael’s work number on the firstpage of the letter I had sent to her, but no one called. The following Friday, a woman I didn’t know called me from theOntario Parole Board. She wanted me to tell her about the impact theassault had on our family. Her name was Stephanie, she told me. “Whichincident was that?” I asked. There had been so many incidents; each ofthem was blurring into the others and I was getting confused. I told herthat a young man had just assaulted David. “No, this is an incident that happened last fall of 2001,” she said. The memories of those autumn days came back to me. “Oh yes, Iremember what happened last fall,” I finally said. “Why are these children allowed back into the public school systemwhen they haven’t received the help they need or haven’t responded towhatever help they do get?” I asked her. “I don’t want children like thatback in school where they can disrupt the honest efforts of other children.Yes, the incident has had an impact on my family. Every one of theseincidents has had an impact on us.” I couldn’t stop talking. “When things at school seem safe he studies with his father for hours,seems attentive and makes good grades. David’s test results are worsewhen something happens to upset him. He goes to bed and sleeps most ofthe evening. His stomach is upset so he usually doesn’t eat. He doesn’tstudy. He doesn’t read. He becomes disoriented and forgets things. One ofthe troublemakers had been harassing him before the winter break. Davidwas upset. He forgot to do a homework assignment before taking a quiz inmath. He got 6 out of 21 marks on the quiz. And now he’s dropped hisphysics class. “He’s started to isolate himself from the few friends he does have.One of his so-called friends has started insulting and threatening him, too.I’m worried because David’s telling me about some of his behaviour at
“Bullies” 175byNancy Knightschool. He’s becoming increasingly aggressive. I’ve called the principalsand the student services office to ask for their help. Nothing changes. I’mafraid I’d be on the phone every day reporting these incidents. I’mwondering if I should spend even more money on counselling for a perfectlynormal boy who happens to be dealing with some really bizarrecircumstances. “I have long talks with David about morals, ethics and humanrelationships. We have talks about how people react to pain in their livesand how the other children seem to have difficulty coping. I ask him to besympathetic yet assertive. “I’m upset too. My mind is filled with worries about the assault thatjust happened. Inside, I’m afraid he’ll give up and we’ll lose him “My daughter refuses to go back to school. She’s not completed grade10 and the correspondence courses are not going well. But at least she’shappy now. She’s gained over fifteen pounds of solid muscle from the hardwork at the stable, she sleeps well, eats well, looks beautiful and content onher new horse. She has a new group of friends who treat her well. Sheattends a church youth group and has a lot of fun. But she’s not getting aneducation. When she heard about the assault on David she said that shewas glad she wasn’t in school because it could have happened to her.Should I make sure she’s educated or should I keep her safe?” I wondered.
“Bullies” 176byNancy Knight 24. The CountdownAfter my conversation with Stephanie, I sat down at my computer and wrotea letter to Mr. Watson. It was pages and pages long. In it I described whatwe had been through. The following week was the winter break and David had a welcomerespite from school while Katie went off to work at the stable every morning.I spent the week phoning every office connected with education andgovernment that I could think of. The assistant superintendent was away on vacation, her assistant toldme. I phoned the person in charge of the code of conduct at the boardoffice. He didn’t return my call. I tried a regional office of the Ministry ofEducation; the woman I spoke to told me to “work with the principal.” Iphoned the clerk at the Ontario Legislature. The woman in charge told methat I could send a letter to each member by printing a copy out for eachperson and then mailing them all together in a larger package. Twice, Ispoke to a fellow at the Ministry of Education. He sympathized and offeredto “pass the information along.” I phoned my local MPP’s office. The girl Ispoke to didn’t know anything at all about education. I phoned the Ministryof Education again. Lana Marcey took my call. “Sue the board,” she saidafter I told her our story. Every morning, after David had gone off to school and I was alone inthe house, I worried about what would happen if Trevor returned to theschool. And, despite Stephanie’s obvious concern for what we’d beenthrough, she could give us no idea if or when Aaron Bradford would return tothe school. David had sent a victim impact letter to Stephanie as she hadasked him to do. When I read it, I realized what a potential danger Aaronwas. For me, each school day the phone didn’t ring was another day ofsurvival. Our evenings and weekends were never peaceful, either. SteveJessop sent David a constant stream of MSN messages. “Your gay don’tever talk again, no one likes u ur immature and dirty go wash ur face,” hewrote just before that Easter weekend. He signed the message, “AcapulcoGold”.
“Bullies” 177byNancy Knight “Chat with friends on line, try MSN Messenger: Click Here”, themessage said at the bottom of each page. We were under attack. It was anightmare. I phoned Mitch again. “Ask for a meeting. Phone Marianne Baxter,the school social worker. Marianne and I worked on a bullying survey andsome interventions to help prevent it way back in the early nineties. Wesubmitted it to the board so they’ve known about this for years. They putthe survey and the programs on the shelf. Listen, call Constable Summerly,too. He’s the school-police liaison officer. Ask them both to attend.” Lana Marcey sent me a fax copy of the Freedom of Information Actand I started learning what it would allow me to find out about Trevor. Iwanted to keep David and Katie out of Trevor’s and Jason’s reach. We didn’tknow that Trevor Armstrong had gone north to Outward Bound inTemagami, Ontario. There he would spend the next few monthsparticipating in anger management counselling and completing someIndependent Learning Centre courses. What we did know was that we wereliving in constant dread that he might return to school. I neededreassurance and decided to follow Mitch’s advice. I called Mr. Watson and said Michael and I wanted to set up a meetingwith him. “David’s still gets harassed and it’s getting worse. Isn’t there aprogram you could use to stop this?” I asked. “One of my colleagues has been involved in something like that. I’llask her about it, but I’m not aware of anything we could use here,” he said. I phoned Marianne Baxter. I told her I was fed up with the bullying.“I’ve been talking to Mitch. He tells me you were working on an anti-bullying survey and some interventions,” I told her. “Yes, that’s true,” she said. “I’d like you to attend a meeting with Michael and me at the school.The principal insists we meet in person. He refuses to answer any of myconcerns in writing. You know, I’m really upset. I’m ready to start going tothe superintendent, the trustee, or a lawyer—whatever will work. This hashad an enormous impact on David. We’re thinking of sending him to aprivate school but what if we can’t arrange that? I’ve been looking at theYoung Offenders Act, the Freedom of Information Act, and anything I canthink of to try to figure out what to do. It seems to me that the schooladministrators don’t have to care about whether or not students hurt eachother or break the law. Principals seem to have a lot of discretion aboutwhether they follow up with students who disobey the school’s Code ofConduct or the laws of our country when it happens at school, and there’s no
“Bullies” 178byNancy Knightone else there watching these kids. The police certainly don’t seem to bethere much.” “I think they do think they’re above the law,” Marianne Baxterinterjected. “Well they didn’t do a thing about the harassment Katie was enduring.Mitch is trying to convince her to go to MM Robinson High School this comingfall, but what if Trevor shows up there? We’d like you to be at themeeting,” I said. David got his midterm mathematics mark. He’d made a 75% average.“David is an excellent math student who always gives his best effort. Keepup the great effort David and be sure to see me for help if problems arise.”David told me he’d be lucky if he managed to get accepted at a communitycollege. His marks were not high enough to get him into the Royal MilitaryCollege or university. He was disappointed. He could do a lot better if hedidn’t have to go to school and study in this constant chaos, I thought. That evening, David gave me another copy of the website. I phonedthe police station again. A police officer came to the house. “Listen, ma’am, I have to ignore people jeering at me all the time.You need to ignore things like this,” he said. I was trying to be assertive. “You’ve got to do something. It’s beengetting worse and we’re fed up,” I said. “Don’t try to tell me what to do, ma’am,” he snapped. “Well then you tell me what you can do,” I snapped back. “I’ll take this to the station and hand it over to the computer section,”he said as he stomped out the door. I wanted to make sure that he had actually delivered it to thecomputer investigation section and called the station again. “We haven’theard anything. I wanted to make sure the officer did, in fact, give thewebsite to the right people,” I said. The response was even more abrupt. “We’re taking care of it,” hesaid. I couldn’t believe police officers were allowed to be so rude to thosethey were supposed to protect. One week later, we had our meeting with Mr. Watson. MarianneBaxter was there but Constable Summerly was not. I couldn’t get a hold ofhim. Michael gave Mr. Watson another copy of the website. “How wouldyou feel if this was your child?” he asked. We talked about the harassment and described how it was escalating.The principal was silent. Then, after a few moments, he said, “The workMarianne Baxter did related to the elementary grades. These problems startthere,” he said.
“Bullies” 179byNancy Knight “The bullying survey I worked on a few years ago, and the anti-bullying program, was cut before we could get it going,” Marianne said. “We want to know if David will be safe here at Pearson,” I said. “What I can tell you is that he will be safe, at least until the end of thisschool year,” Mr. Watson assured us. “I’ll also send out a notice to all staffinvolved to watch out for David’s safety.” I wondered what sort of empty reassurance that was supposed to be.I didn’t know whether we were referring to Trevor alone, or the wholecomplicated mess of the bullying. Even if I asked him directly, it wasapparent that Mr. Watson would not be more definite. Even if he meant hewould deal with all of the generalized harassment, what would happen in thefall? Would we have to pull David out and send him to another school if theabuse started again? Then how would he make sure he could enrol in thecourses he needed? He’d be signing up for his classes late. “Will Marianne see David for counselling?” I asked. “Of course, yes,” Mr. Watson said. Marianne wrote a note and beganto leaf through her copy of my letter to Mr. Watson. “I’ll get started on this right away,” she said. She gestured towardsMr. Watson. “You know, he’s one of the more responsive principals we’vehad here,” she said. Then, she left the three of us alone. Mr. Watson thanked me for the letter I had sent him. We discussedsome of my suggestions for improving security at the school. We discussedthe smoker’s pit. “We’re tearing it up,” he said. So there really is a Smoker’s Pit, I thought as I remembered myconversations with Mr. Stanton years before. So our children have beenallowed to break school rules and city bylaws, I considered. “I’ve also just recently realized that the school property extends pastthe chain link fence into the wooded area so we’ll be supervising that areafrom now on. It’s a good idea to reposition the lockers, too.” I hadsuggested that if the banks of lockers were turned, it would be easier tosupervise the entire locker bay. Mr. Watson continued, “The idea of securityguards is on my list, too. Notre Dame has three security guards and theyseem to be working out well. I can’t do anything about the neighbourhoodvariety store selling cigarette lighters to the students...” “It’s not just that they’re selling cigarette lighters. The students areloitering outside the store, waiting for someone older to agree to buy themcigarettes,” I interrupted. “I could talk to the store owner about that, I suppose,” he said. “You could also mention it to the police and ask them to checkperiodically,” I said. “In fact, you could get the police in here whenever
“Bullies” 180byNancy Knightthere’s criminal activity, like the drugs that are turning up, or the assaults,or the thefts. We’re supposed to have zero tolerance but it seems like theprogressive discipline just goes on forever with no real consequences.”I asked him if he and David’s history teacher could give us a letter ofrecommendation for David. I had started to research alternative schools forboth David and Katie. “These are all positive suggestions,” he said, “but of course, there’salways a problem about money and budgets.” On our way out the door, hegave us some brochures printed by the board showing the tight budgetconstraints they were under. That evening, the school held its Cabaret Night. Another one of thoseexpensive productions expected to impress everyone, I thought. Two days later, David got another interim finite math report. His markhad gone down to 70%. “David has worked very hard to overcome someearly difficulties. He asks questions when necessary and submits all work ontime. Keep up the solid effort.” David’s American History mark was 82%.“David is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic student in history. He is capableof great insight and continues to be a compassionate thinker. Some workhas not always been up to his standards so more consistency is required.”David’s average was just below what he needed. I received a reply to the request for information I’d sent to the boarddays earlier. Under the Freedom of Information act, I’d asked them to tellme if Trevor would be allowed back into Pearson High School. The boardcould not give me that information, the letter said. I contemplated myoptions. There weren’t many. I could leave David in the school to deal withthe ongoing harassment, and hope that Trevor wouldn’t return to makematters worse. Maybe David could get his grade average up despite all theother distractions. Or, I could withdraw him either immediately or at theend of the year, and try to find some alternative to a public education. Every day that David continued to attend Pearson was a risk. ThoughTrevor wasn’t there, Jason was becoming bolder. More students, someDavid didn’t really know, were becoming aggressive towards him. Iwondered if the website was the reason the violence against Davidescalated. David was assaulted several times that spring. Getting rid of thewebsite seemed to make the most sense. I had been making some preliminary plans to do something for myselfthat spring. I was hoping to enrol in a French immersion program, stay witha French-Canadian family in Quebec City, and have a break from everything.It would have been my first time away in more than twenty years, but I put
“Bullies” 181byNancy Knightthe pages of registration information aside, and started searching theinternet. “How to deal with defamation on the internet,” I typed. “The firststep should be to notify the internet service provider ….” I couldn’t do that.Michael’s brother had warned me to deal with the bullies first. I felt as if I would crumble under the pressure of trying to end theabuse. I wondered, as the visitor count on the website increased by the dayand the comments became more disgusting, who was typing those wordsand who was viewing them. Were the participants limited to the students atthe school? Were any of the neighbourhood children involved? Were myneighbours aware of the website and not telling me what they knew aboutit? Were any of our friends or family members searching for my son’s nameand finding that site? I was frustrated, angry and humiliated. I knew thatthe school was never going to protect and support my son. All of his hopesand dreams depended on his ability to finish his year in safety and peace. Iwanted to make sure he had that chance. I called the law firm in Hamilton. That evening, Michael went to the parent-teacher meeting at theschool by himself. He mentioned the bullying to David’s teachers. I was tooupset and too angry to go with him. Not one of the teachers reassuredMichael that anything would be done to protect David. I started to write notes about every incident of harassment thathappened to David at school. I began with the previous Monday. David hadcome home upset again. Jason had intruded into David’s conversation withanother student. These constant interruptions weren’t just a briefinterjection. Jason, as he had been doing for years, walked up to David andhis companion, pushed himself between them and started to take over theconversation. He interrupted and overpowered David and the other studentuntil the boys were forced to withdraw from the conversation. On Thursday,Jason once again, forced David to withdraw from a conversation and retreatuntil Jason left. The next Friday, when we got home after our first meeting at thelawyer’s office, I phoned Mr. Watson. Again, I asked him to do something.“I’m not sure what to do now. David hasn’t been telling me everything thathappens to him. He needs to tell me right away,” Mr. Watson said. “He’d be in your office every hour,” I told him. “I’ll make up a reporting form and give it to David,” he promised. Hetold me that David would be able to write every incident down as ithappened. When David came home that afternoon, he told us that William Martin,Stewart Martin’s brother, and another boy from Kilbride, threw papers at
“Bullies” 182byNancy Knighthim. I asked David if he had spoken to Mr. Watson. “Yea, Mom, he saidhe’d give me a form to write down all the things that happen to me, but henever gave it to me and I didn’t see him again today.” Four days later, Jason interrupted another one of David’sconversations and forced the boys to stop talking. Later that day, Mr.Watson asked Gloria Shepard, the secretary, to retrieve a form from hercomputer. Its title was “My Log of Incidents.” The following day, Davidcame home with the reporting form and I continued to make notes of eachincident that happened so that we could transfer the information to the formwhen the principal asked David for it. He hadn’t told David when to returnthe form and we didn’t know whether he needed a few days worth ofincidents or a few weeks. We decided to wait at least a week so theprincipal would have enough information so that he could take action. William Martin threw a bag of fruit at David in the cafeteria while Davidwas sitting with another student. Two days later, Jason Cooke and RogerBradley taunted David about the car. The list grew as quickly as the abusealways did. Jason harassed David every time he saw him. Some kid pushedDavid into the pop machine. Another student hit him several times with athick wooden drum stick. Jason started threatening to hurt him. Stevethrew an empty plastic pop bottle at him in the library. Kids he didn’t knowstarted to grimace and roll their eyes at him. And the website was goingcrazy and no one was listening or doing anything to help. Soon, we were back in the lawyer’s office with David, planning ourstrategy, while still hoping that the school administrators and staff wouldbegin to act. But there were more problems with Jason and I had to call Mr.Watson again. He said he would meet with David on Friday, to ask him howthings were going but that Friday, David found spit and a sticky liquidsmeared over the headlights of the car. Seeds and other debris wereimbedded in it. “Did Mr. Watson speak to you today?” I asked David. “No Mom,” he replied. I picked up the phone again. “Mr. Watson, someone has vandalized David’s car again today.Haven’t you had a chance to speak to David about all this--and what aboutthe form? When do you want it back?” I asked. “I’ve been busy and haven’t had a chance, but I’ll speak to David onTuesday.” I was getting so weary. How can he be so cavalier about somethingthat is causing us so much grief? I thought. We told the lawyers to goahead and prepare a Statement of Claim. “Just in case we might need to
“Bullies” 183byNancy Knightprotect David’s education,” I said to Michael, “but let’s hope they finally startdoing something to stop this.” I decided to try Yahoo again, too. If I couldn’t get them to take thewebsite down, we had lawyers to help us now. When I reached the Yahooswitchboard I asked for their legal department right away. “What do I needto do to get this website taken down? Do you need a subpoena from aCanadian court?” I asked. “Yes, we’d have to have a subpoena, but you’d have to process itthrough the legal offices here in the United States,” the fellow said. “Well then, we’ve got lawyers here in Canada and we’re prepared to dojust that,” I said. “Can you give me the URL address of the website?” he asked. I readout the long list of characters. “Is that a picture of your son? Are thosecomments about him?” he asked. “Yes, they are, and I want it taken down,” I insisted. “Ok, it’s gone.” I checked my computer the instant I hung up. The website haddisappeared. Courtney helped me draft an email to Mr. Watson. I phoned theschool for Mr. Watson’s email address and checked the board’s website forthe others. Then, I sent the long message to Mr. Watson. With Courtney’shelp, I had summarized my communications with Mr. Watson. I included alist of the things that had been happening to David throughout those lastfour weeks. We wanted to make sure the principal realized how devastatingto David the bullying had become. “It’s been three weeks and you haven’tasked David for the reporting form...The harassment and abuse of David hasto stop, and the school has both the responsibility and the ability to stopit...report to me in writing.” Mr. Watson wrote several notes on his copy of my email which hadbeen included in the documents. He had been aware of one of the incidentsand had dealt with it superficially. The others, he noted, hadn’t beenreported to him. When I read this, I wondered if it had occurred to him thatthat was why the reporting form was printed. Mr. Watson forwarded my message to Stella Montrose, hissuperintendent. “Did you receive this yet, Stella? What do I do now? This(is) concerning me deeply,” Mr. Watson wrote. Minutes later, I sent a copy of the email to Stella Montrose and to thedirector of education. I imagine Mr. Watson must have spoken to Mrs.Montrose on the phone, and then, he sent me a response. “Unfortunately, Iam not available tomorrow. If there are issues tomorrow, he should see Ms.
“Bullies” 184byNancy KnightGrenville directly. I would like to arrange a meeting with you, David andMrs. Montrose to address how we might support David in the last few weeksof school. I would also like to take this opportunity to respond to several ofthe points you make in your letter. Please let me know if there is apreferred day or time for this meeting. Regards, George Watson.” Stella wrote to Mr. Watson. Her calendar was free until Thursday, at10:30 am. “We should also talk before we go into the meeting,” StellaMontrose wrote to Mr. Watson. Mr. Watson wrote to Stella Montrose. Hewould try to set up a meeting for early Thursday. Then he wrote to me.“Stella Montrose is available to meet on Thursday morning. Could we meetat 8:30 or 8:45?” Finally, Stella Montrose sent me an email telling me thatshe would make herself available for Mr. Watson’s meeting with us. Therewas no mention of what they were prepared to do to stop the abuse and Ibelieved another meeting would be like all the others—useless. The school secretary phoned me to confirm the time and date of themeeting. I told the secretary that we weren’t interested in having any moremeetings. I told her that I wanted a response in writing or I wanted mylawyer to attend with me. She wrote that phone message for Mr. Watsonand another message saying that Stella Montrose would meet with himanyway. That same day, Michael left work early for a meeting at our house withCourtney and Patrick, one of the law firm’s partners. Patrick and Courtneywanted to meet Katie, and then they talked to us about how a lawsuit wouldprogress and what we were allowed to say if we were asked by the media orour neighbours. We were going to make sure the school protected our sonand his education. That evening, the school held a Music Night. I can only wonder aboutthe resources spent to show off how well students were doing, while notenough attention was paid to solving the problems that were harming them. On Thursday morning, Mrs. Montrose and Mr. Watson met without us.Mrs. Grenville was there, too. There were various notes written on severalcopies of my email disagreeing with some of my recollections of theconversations between Mr. Watson and me. Mrs. Montrose wrote on her copy, “Carmen,” (the director ofeducation), “spoke with me. I indicated that we were trying to set up ameeting for discussing. I would keep him informed." When I finally foundthis note, I realized that the director had received my email, but he hadn’tbothered to reply. There were more notes on their numerous copies of my email. Davidhadn’t reported the harassment. I had done the reporting. We had
“Bullies” 185byNancy Knightencouraged David to go and report the harassment to the office but manytimes he didn’t do this and instead came home and told me. It was difficultto get him to go to the administration, especially since, when this hadhappened at Kilbride, he had been brought into the office and made toconfront his persecutor. In the last year at Pearson he was more preparedto do this, and did. Even so, there were many incidents that were notreported. How many times do you have to report before something morethan a warning is issued and before you begin to realize its futility? Davidwas also seeing his parents contact the teachers, the administration, theboard and still the harassment was continuing – what was he to do that wehadn’t already done? There were more notes on Mr. Watson’s and Stella Montrose’s copiesof my email. The strategies they were using were not working. Theprincipal had been aware of some of the problems but hadn’t dealt withthem all effectively. After his meeting with Mrs. Montrose, Mr. Watson sent a note toDavid’s teachers: “Apparently, David continues to be the victim of harassingbehaviours from other students. Often this is subtle in nature, butsometimes it is not. Please take careful note of any behaviour towardsDavid that could be perceived as harassing in nature...David should not beleft in unsupervised situations. ..Handle this situation with discretion...pleaselet me know directly..." But Mr. Watson didn’t let me know that he had finally sent that letterthat he’d promised to send to all of David’s teachers at our meeting onemonth earlier. I had hoped that he’d kept his word but then couldn’tunderstand why the harassment was continuing and wasn’t beingdiscovered. When David came home, he told me that Mr. Watson had called him tothe office that afternoon around two o’clock. “How’s it going, David?” heasked. “Things are ok in class now, but socially it’s really tough,” David saidas he shook his head then added, “You know, I can’t wait to get out of thisschool.” “David, where’s your car parked today?” “It’s in the middle of the parking lot, near the fields.” “Ok, I’ll check on it, but David, I can’t do much about all the littlethings that are happening,” Mr. Watson said. When David went back to his history class, Steve Jessop was pointingat him and whispering to the other students around him. “See, I told youso,” David heard him say as the group of students started to laugh.
“Bullies” 186byNancy Knight Just another typical day, I thought as David finished this latest after-school report. Then he added, (matter-of-factly, as if the physical abusedidn’t matter as much as the embarrassment), that he’d been tripped in thehall by one of Trevor’s friends. Trevor’s girlfriend had been standing rightbeside the fellow who had thrust his leg out in front of David. David thoughtshe’d encouraged him. As David picked himself up off the floor, the entiregroup of kids broke into loud laughter.
“Bullies” 187byNancy Knight 25. EnoughBy the time David came home from school, Michael had left work early anddropped into the lawyer’s office to sign the papers that would ensure that wewould pay the costs of the legal proceedings. Michael must have been in thelawyer’s office when David walked into the house and told me about hismeeting with Mr. Watson, the comments from Steve Jessop and the trippingincident. I sent an email to Courtney telling her about the most recentharassment. “Should we think about taking him out of the schoolimmediately and hiring a tutor?” I asked. I knew that there was a highprobability of more serious emotional and physical abuse as examsapproached. I had lost all confidence in the school’s administration to dealwith the problem. There had been no written response to our request for aplan of action. I wondered if we were going to save David’s grade twelveyear. “Go ahead, Courtney, send the papers,” I told her over the phone. Courtney sent for the courier and phoned the principal. She told himshe was sending a faxed letter and a copy of the statement of claim. Therewas a paper copy of the statement being couriered to him. “We act for David Knight and his parents Nancy and Michael Knightand sister, Katharine Knight.” “Enclosed please find a Statement of Claimregarding the abuse...” “Please advise immediately as to what protectivemeasures the school has implemented in this regard.” David wrote his Opinion Editorial that week. He placed a copy into anenvelope and mailed it to the editor of the Globe and Mail, one of the largestnewspapers in the country. Later that day, Courtney sent some quotationsfrom David’s Op Ed to one of the Globe’s reporters. “I no longer care about ‘being cool’ and ignoring the things thathappen to me. I want everyone who will listen to know what I’ve gonethrough and how wrong it is.” Later, I made note of another quote: “There is one thing that hasbothered me a lot since I launched this case. Uneducated comments frompeople who think my case is unfounded. One comment has bothered me inparticular. While talking to someone my age I was told that, and I quote,“Yeah, well it happens to everyone in high school.” As if it makes it okay if ithappens to a large number of people. I know a lot about 20th centuryhistory and so I can think of a lot of examples. I want to ask the peoplewith that attitude this question: Would you have walked into a Nazi
“Bullies” 188byNancy Knightconcentration camp and told a Jewish person, ‘Oh well, it happened toeveryone.’ Six million Jews died because of Hitler. Does that make it okay?Thousands died on September 11, but would you dare go to a survivor andsay ‘Yeah well it happened to everyone else,’ or ‘Suck it up and learn to fightback.’ “I am going to fight back but I’m not going to leave a trail of deadbodies behind me.” The next day, David drove to the school. He turned around and cameback home, too afraid to enter the building. “The closer I got to school, theworse my stomach felt, then, when I turned around to come back home, mystomach ache started to go away.” Throughout that weekend, we waited for a reaction from the Globe andMail but they didn’t print the editorial. “They must vet it through their legaldepartment,” Courtney said. “Then tell them not to print it. We’ll go with whatever interviews theywant,” I told her. Why is it so difficult to tell the truth? I wondered. Meanwhile, that Sunday, Steve Jessop’s dad began to react to thestatement of claim that had been sent to Steve’s mother that week. Mr.Jessop’s email response was angry and defensive. “Your son is responsible for the role he played in making David’s lifemiserable...”C Courtney wrote back. David was afraid to go to school that Monday and stayed at home. Wehadn’t heard a thing from the school. Courtney sent a fax to Mr. Watsonand Stella Montrose reminding them of her letter in which she asked them tosend her details of whatever plans they would put in place to keep Davidsafe. She told the principal and the assistant superintendent about thetripping incident that had happened the day the statement of claim wasdelivered. That Monday was the first day of a three day suspension for Jason forswearing at the principal in the locker bay. That same day, the reporter from the Globe sent an email to Courtney.“He wants to interview David and you tomorrow morning,” Courtney told us.David was eager to agree. “And Nancy, Mrs. Montrose wants to meet us tomorrow. I’ve set up ameeting for one o’clock in the afternoon at Pearson. Do you have anythingto wear?” The question was appropriate. I had been at home for years,doing housework, gardening and taking care of the family. I owned just oneoutfit that could be described as somewhat suitable. Courtney came to the house in the morning and helped us negotiateour way through the phone interview with the reporter. We had our answers
“Bullies” 189byNancy Knightready: “This lawsuit is how we’ve decided to stand up for children andourselves as a family. Everything else...had failed,” and “We are doing thisto protect our children and to ensure a safe and beneficial learningenvironment for them and for all children.” Minutes after the interview, the assistant superintendent calledCourtney’s cell phone and cancelled that afternoon’s meeting. Then the Globe and Mail called. “Can we send a photographer aroundto take David’s picture? Is later this week ok?” the fellow said. David still didn’t want to go to school. He had been trying to get to hishistory class, the last period of the day, but he’d missed nine out of tenmath classes and his exams were only days away. I phoned the principaland asked him to send David’s work home and my neighbour’s son deliveredan envelope to us. One of David’s teachers included a note that David wouldneed instruction. I asked David if he felt he could return to school. He saidhe’d be able to concentrate in the history class and complete hisassignments, but he thought the math classes would be difficult. I knewwe’d need to do more. Courtney sent a faxed letter to the board’s lawyer. She told him thatDavid had gone to the school the day before to pick up some things from hislocker. Someone threw a football and hit David as he walked towards hiscar. Then Courtney wrote a letter to Steve Jessop’s father telling him thatDavid would be attending the history class in which Steve was also enrolled,and asking that Steve not communicate with David directly or indirectly. We started to phone tutoring agencies and scheduled interviews withthem for the following week. Courtney wrote a letter to the board, askingthem to pay for the tutors or to provide private instruction for Davidthemselves. The board’s lawyer wrote back. He did not want David to go tohistory class in the afternoon and agreed that David’s teachers would tutorhim. They’d set up a schedule for sessions to be held at a local school. Thelawyers also agreed that David would write his exams separately from theother students at another school. David had missed 57 classes on 39 dayssince the beginning of the school year. Steve Jessop was having difficulty attending school as well. Steve’sdoctor wrote a note and the school hired a teacher to provide instruction forSteve at his home, until the end of the school year. Early in the morning, while we were still in our beds, the reporter’sarticle about David was printed in the Globe and Mail. Courtney called usabout midmorning. “The reporters will be there shortly—get ready,” shesaid. I quickly put the house in order and called Michael at work. By thetime he arrived home, there were half a dozen huge media vans on our
“Bullies” 190byNancy Knightdriveway. Our house was a spider’s web of wires and gear. Cables andvideo equipment stretched through the halls. David excused himself andhurried upstairs to brush his teeth and comb his hair. Courtney and Mr.Arthur settled themselves into the role of directing the various mediarepresentatives to different rooms of the house. Reporters waited patientlyin out of the way corners for their turns. We disconnected the telephone soits ringing would not interrupt the taping, and then reconnected it to answercalls from radio stations and magazines. Soon, David was being interviewed by one reporter after another as hetold the story of what his life had been like during the previous eight years. Later, when we had a chance to buy a copy at the Kilbride store, I wassurprised that David’s picture, with the bright red cap, was so prominent andon the front page. I had expected that if they printed the story at all, itwould probably be somewhere inside the paper. At the school that morning, Mr. Watson had already made anannouncement about the news article. “Most of you are aware of mediareports about our school. Despite these, we maintain our focus on theimportant business of learning and teaching as we move toward a successfulcompletion of the school year. There could be further media attention. Myresponse to the media will be to refer them to the senior staff at the boardoffice. Please reflect carefully before deciding if you want to comment to themedia, and what you might say. “I am confident that we will emerge from this controversy an evenstronger school, with the support of our school community.” Mr. Watson sent an email report to his superintendent, StellaMontrose, “I have taken one call from a concerned parent seeking assurancethat the school is a safe place for her Grade 9 student. I got a busy signalwhen I dialled the board office. Is that a bad sign?” That morning, Mr. and Mrs. Simpson stood near the newspaper standat the hospital. They had taken a break before returning to the emergencyroom. Norma glanced at the Globe and Mail and recognized Davidimmediately. They went back to where their grandson, Richard, the friendDavid had met at Air Cadets, was lying on a hospital bed. The doctors hadpumped an entire container of Tylenol out of his stomach. The article on thefront page may have been about David’s experiences with bullying at school,but Richard’s grandparents knew only too well, that it was Rich’s story too. The lead report on that evening’s news was all about David. Themedia was primarily interested in the internet and the cyber-bullying andfocussed on that. For an entire week reporters continued to call. There
“Bullies” 191byNancy Knightwere stories about David and the bullying in the local newspapers, variousmagazines and on the internet for weeks. The day after the Globe and Mail story was published VeronicaMendleson went to Mr. Watson’s office and told him a lie. She told him thatthree weeks earlier, David had accosted her in the hall, restrained her, andgroped her. “He wouldn’t let me go,” she said. “Who is Veronica Mendleson?” David asked when Courtney asked usabout this item in the board’s documents. At the end of that week, a security officer left a note at our front door.“I have some information that may assist you. Please call me,” the messageread. He worked in the private community south of our subdivision, whereJason Cooke and his family lived, he told Michael on the phone. It was onlyhis second year working in that community, but he’d already had severalconfrontations with Trevor and Jason. The boys had taken swings at himand his partner. Once, Jason’s stepfather took their security car and thenwent after them with a tire iron when they tried to get it back. “Wespecialize in gang and youth removal,” the security guard said.
“Bullies” 192byNancy Knight 26. The AftermathSteve Jessop’s mother and father acted quickly. They paid for some legaladvice and continued to defend their son. Eventually, they saw printouts ofsome of the messages Steve had been sending David, and Steve finallyadmitted to placing one of the entries onto the website, but we suspectedhe’d been responsible for several of the more offensive comments. Stevefinally signed an apology letter that we agreed was acceptable. One day, the year after we withdrew David from school, he was drivingthrough Burlington, and saw Steve walking along the sidewalk with his booksunder his arm. He was heading away from MM Robinson High Schooltowards his home which was located further east, past Pearson. Thankgoodness Katie’s not there with him, I thought when David told me. Twoyears later, David heard another rumour about Steve. He had beenarrested, something about drugs, and Steve had spent time in jail, someonewho knew Steve told David later.Because Trevor had been charged with assault, he was required to appear inyouth court. We weren’t expected to be at any of those appearances, butwe wanted to be sure that the legal process actually did what it wassupposed to do. The Crown Attorney took Courtney, David and me into asmall room adjacent to the courtroom and asked us to tell him about Trevor. David explained that Trevor had been an ongoing threat to his safetyat school and that he had been greatly affected when Trevor assaulted him.I described the environment at the school as being toxic for David. I toldthe Crown that the school was unresponsive and not co-operative. David had written a victim impact statement earlier that had beensubmitted to the court. “It is my last year and a half in high school. To putit simply, it’s down to the wire as far as marks and attendance goes. If Icontinue to have distractions and obstacles to deal with such as Trevor andhis friends, I will not make the grades necessary for university. I do nothave the time to deal with his abuse and immaturity. All I ask is for him tobe told to leave me alone and if possible, not attend my school. At thispoint, I just want to get my job done and finish my education without peopletrying to stop me. “Because of the abuse by Trevor and his friends, I have been unable tocontinue attendance at my high school and have been withdrawn from it.My family is looking for an alternate school.”
“Bullies” 193byNancy Knight When we went back into the courtroom, the Crown Attorney said a fewwords about the toxic school environment that had been allowed to exist inthe school. Then, the judge asked Trevor a few questions. Trevor’s momspoke up on his behalf and mentioned Trevor’s experience at Outward BoundThe judge was not sympathetic. He explained the punitive and deterrentaspects of sentencing for what he labelled “the bullying incident.” He gaveTrevor consequences we all agreed were adequate: probation for one year,community service, and instructions to stay away from David and Katie. I read about Trevor’s experiences in Temagami in the copies of lettershis mom eventually sent us. The Outward Bound facility was a special needsschool in Temagami, Ontario. When he arrived at the school, Trevor hadsymptoms of depression and anger. He had missed a lot of his classes at Pearson and needed to catch upon his schoolwork. Trevor was an ideal student at Outward Bound. He gotalong well with both the staff and the other students. He finished his coursework and his exams in good time. His marks in history and English wereoutstanding. During his stay there, Trevor also received counselling in angermanagement and substance abuse. The report which the school sent to hisparents was glowing. Trevor finished his studies in Temagami that spring.In the fall, Trevor attended MM Robinson High School--the same schoolSteve Jessop was attending. But there, Trevor seemed to stumble throughhis courses. We had been negotiating with him and his mom for an apology letterand a token sum of money to reinforce the lesson. The responses weinitially got back were defensive and accusatory. Then we receivedcommunication from Trevor and his mom that seemed to be references toTrevor’s good character and justifications for his behaviour towards David.Are they trying to get out of an apology and a few hundred dollars? Iwondered. Doesn’t she want her son to learn something? I asked myself. Then, Janice Armstrong told Courtney that Trevor had tried to commitsuicide. But it seemed like she and her son were simply trying to avoidwriting an apology. Whenever David saw Trevor, Trevor seemed to be inbetter spirits than we would have expected. Despite the order from thecourt to stay away from David, he often seemed to be in the same place atthe same time. One afternoon, for instance, David had stopped the car at the curboutside of the local shopping mall and Trevor appeared. Instead of ignoringDavid and continuing on his way, Trevor stopped, made childish faces atDavid, gestured towards him as if mocking him, made a little dance and atwirling motion, and then gestured towards David and the car.
“Bullies” 194byNancy Knight Later, we saw Trevor driving around and knew he was doing wellenough to have earned his driver’s license and purchase a car—a used blackCavalier, almost exactly the same as David’s. Trevor drove around in it,wearing a pair of bright yellow flying goggles, the kind military pilots mightwear. One day, while David was working his shift at a large store inBurlington, Trevor made a show of walking by the aisle where David wasworking—wearing the same yellow flying goggles. “I’ll just ignore it unless itgets bad enough that we can be sure it’s not just a coincidence,” David toldCourtney. We doubted Janice Armstrong’s story about her son and asked forproof while we continued to insist on an appropriate apology from Trevor.When Trevor’s mom finally sent the hospital reports, six months later, weknew that Trevor had swallowed an overdose of medication and had been inthe hospital for treatment. We had never been told that Trevor was taking medication fordepression. His hospital record showed that he had a history of chronicdepression, oppositional defiant disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivitydisorder. Apparently, school administration didn’t know about any of thiseither. None of this information appeared in any of the school’s records.The only medical note for Trevor was about asthma. He’d been prescribedpills for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but he’d only taken thosepills for a short time. Not long enough to make a difference, we thought.Our experiences with David and his attention difficulties had taught us thatADHD was best treated at the earliest age. Though David had benefittedgreatly from taking medication, we knew that overcoming ADHD sometimestook years, not months. There were notes, too, about Trevor’s relationshipwith his father—he walks out of the house when things get difficult. Therewere also notes about the lawsuit we’d filed against him. We knew then that Trevor was more fragile than we had thoughtpreviously, but an appropriate apology letter seemed like a reasonableexpectation to us. We continued to ask Trevor to apologize. That year, Trevor managed to keep his grades high enough and hewas accepted into a community college outside of the city the following year.We thought we were close to reaching an agreement about what his apologyletter should look like. We wanted Trevor to realize the impact hisbehaviour had had on us, take responsibility for it, and make amends. Thesuggested apology letter we sent to him was straight forward and clear. But then David started to hear rumours from some of the youngpeople who had attended Pearson. Trevor was dead, they told David. He’d
“Bullies” 195byNancy Knighthung himself in his room at college and his roommate had discovered himhanging there. Some of Trevor’s friends were invited to head north to Barriefor the funeral. It was unbelievable. Trevor was gone. There was a strange uneasiness that enveloped us then. There hadbeen a sublime, agonizing relationship between our two families for years.As parents, Michael and I had experienced this macabre epic from adistance, and yet it was ever painful as we watched our children suffer. David and Katie, however, had been caught in a vortex of intimatepsychological and physical abuse for a decade. The ever-present turmoil,dread, and panic had grown to be a part of us all. Now it was gone. Wefound ourselves drifting in empty spaces of uncertainty. Yet there was calm.We hoped that we could move on. The first pre-trial hearing was scheduled. David was training with themilitary so Michael and I attended with Courtney. A conservative lookinggentleman with grey hair took a seat several rows behind the counsel for thedefendants. “He’s from the insurance company,” Courtney explained. I took a deep breath. This fellow represented our real adversary, Ibelieved. His goal would be to protect his insurance company from coststhat would have to be paid to us if the board of education was found liable.He would not be interested in the truth. Money was really the only issue tohim. Jason walked into the room with his mom. It had been at least threeyears since we’d seen Jason and I’d never had the opportunity to meet Mrs.Cooke. She looked sophisticated and confident; Jason was bigger than Iremembered him to be. He looked a bit dishevelled. He still had difficultyexpressing himself well. Jason surprised us all. He told the judge that hehadn’t seen David in years. He was willing to apologize. He wanted to moveon with his life. “I saw the website at school and kids were looking at it andadding things to it there,” he told the judge. “I don’t want to talk aboutTrevor,” he said. The board’s, or rather the insurance company’s, lawyer was adamant.“You’re not going to get one red cent unless you take this to trial,” heinsisted. Courtney came back to us. “The money’s not important, Courtney,” Iwhispered. If the insurance company was honourable, it would at least payour costs, I thought. The judge had his say, too. If he was judging our case at trial, he’d beon our side and he’d be awarding us compensation as well, he said. Then hereferred to the bullying David had suffered for so long, “It’s a pox,” he said.
“Bullies” 196byNancy Knight We thought we were close to getting Jason to acknowledge the harmhis behaviour had caused and to apologize, but Jason moved away. Wedecided not to look for him. Though we knew that Trevor’s suicide wascaused by more than just our insistence on a proper apology, we didn’t wantto take any more chances. We let Jason go.The senior staff member at the board of education was a little surprisedwhen I called her one day. “Would you please send me a copy of thebullying survey the board requisitioned in the early 1990s—the one MarianneBaxter and Mitch Goodall worked on?” I asked. “We don’t have that survey,” she said. “I’ve been told by someone that it was put on the shelf. You mighthave to dig around for it. I’d appreciate it if you’d send it to me when youfind it,” I said. A couple of weeks later the bullying survey arrived in the mail. Beforemy children started their education in public school in the early 1990s, ourschool board had sent out a questionnaire to be completed by children inseveral schools in the region. The survey proved that bullying was asignificant problem. There was also extensive research about bullying that had beenavailable for a few years. Statistics had been gathered from around theworld, and across Canada. There was a major problem brewing in Ontarioschools and everyone should have known about it and acted.In the end, it turns out that Katie paid the highest price for our inability toget the bullying stopped before it broke her spirit. She seemed happy atRide Along stable that first year and we were so grateful that we’d given hersomething to rely on outside of her life at school. The correspondencecourses seemed to suit her, until she refused to write the math exam, eventhough her term mark was in the nineties. Later, when she tried to return toschool in another area, she couldn’t reconnect with the routine of classes,homework, and studying. She dropped out soon after she started. We had to ask her to leave the house twice. The first time, we madesure she had a place to go; the second time, she was old enough to makeher own arrangements. She seemed to need to deal with her anger and hurton her own terms. But she always managed to get to the stable to workwith the horses. She still goes back to the farm. Eventually Katie settled down at home again. Education will always bea priority for Michael and me. I searched the internet for ideas anddiscovered Woodsworth College on the University of Toronto website.
“Bullies” 197byNancy Knight“Katie, if you want to take one course at Woodsworth College, and if you dowell, you’ll be able to get into university,” I said. By then, Katie could drive.She drove into Toronto. I sat in the passenger seat wondering how thatlatest adventure would turn out. “I was so uncomfortable,” Katie explained later as she described howshe had felt nervous and much younger than the other potential students atthat first orientation meeting. I remember thinking that, just as she hadseemed during the parent night at Pearson years before, Katie had herdefences up. “Don’t get near me. Don’t hurt me,” she seemed to be saying. Katie took that course and did well. She attended university full-timethe following year and did well again. “I’d like to join the police force. Iwant to be a police officer,” she said. She’s strong and healthy: a healthfood junkie, a hot yoga fan, and a dirt bike owner who races every summerat motocross events. Just as Kate was finishing her last year at U of T, she came to see me.“I couldn’t sleep last night,” she said. “I woke up thinking about all thethings Jason Cooke had said to me at school. I couldn’t stop thinking aboutit. I just couldn’t get to sleep.” “Try to let it go, Katie,” I said.David spent two years after withdrawing from high school, studying athome. He spent hours working on courses from the Independent LearningCentre and, with the help of the occasional visit to a tutoring agency, madegood grades. We offered him more flying lessons for completing his work. I will never forget those wonderful months while David was at homewith me. We’d take a break at noon to watch Charlie Rose on the U.S.public broadcasting channel. I’d call out to him occasionally, “Hey David,come and watch this. It’s about Martin Luther.” He perfected his public speaking skills by visiting conferences andschools throughout Ontario, Quebec, and the United States, speaking outagainst bullying and encouraging educators to address the issue head on. David received offers of admittance from two universities and chosethe University of Toronto. He breezed through his studies on a militarysponsorship. He had stopped taking any medication years earlier when hestarted to learn to fly Cesnas. The medication had helped him learn tocontrol his impulses and his behaviour long ago. David spent his summers at basic training camp in Quebec. Then,there was flight training in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. David is a militaryman now, and we like to think we are a military family, too. His training hasbeen second to none. His life is exactly how he wants it to be. He’s had
“Bullies” 198byNancy Knightthe excitement of spending hours riding along with the pilot in an F18 fighterjet. He’s been training in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and Portage La Prairie,Manitoba. He’s going to learn how to fly military helicopters. He hopes thatsomeday, he’ll be flying one of those jets all by himself. When he has come to Ontario to visit us, we’ve tried, occasionally, todrive into Burlington for a meal at one of the local pubs. I see his shouldersbrace. He remembers and doesn’t want to be there. Now that Michael and Iare in Toronto most of the time these days, we can all go out for dinner andforget the hurt we felt years ago.Now, as I spend my days writing, I keep a small folded card on the desk infront of me. It sits beside my computer and every one in a while I pick it upand read the poem inside. It’s the remembrance card from Rich’s funeral.He died on February 13, 2004, a Friday. There’d been some talk among his friends about Rich’s fantasies of aperfect place called Blisstopia, but we adults hadn’t been aware of that.There’d also been some talk about Rich’s friends cheering him on. “Go for itRich,” someone had apparently messaged him the night before he died. Rich’s younger brother discovered him hanging from the ceiling in thebasement of his mother’s house. “He was in pretty bad shape. His face andneck were black and blue when Bobby found him. His mom’s a wreck. Ican’t believe he’s gone,” Rich’s grandma told me. Mitch was at the funeral parlour when Michael, David, and I walkedinto the room. Mitch had started talking to Rich and his family after wereferred them to him. We said a brief hello and then went to see Rich. Hisear and lip studs were gone. His hair was neatly combed to one side. Hewas wearing a light blue jacket over a white shirt. There was no sign of themassive bruising his grandma had described or the smell she told me aboutmuch later. The undertaker had done a good job. Several bouquets ofcolourful balloons rose up from the coffin at each end. The air smelled of fragrant flowers, prettily displayed throughout theroom. A low, constant murmur of voices seemed to blend with soft, peacefulmusic. But all too frequently, loud, wretched sobbing punched through thesolemn dignity of the space. “That’s his dad,” Rich’s grandma told us. The man was in his mid thirties, dark haired and solid featured likeRich. He was slouched over as he sat leaning into the shoulder of the petitewoman sitting beside him. “I should’ve been there more. I should’ve calledmore. I should’ve paid more attention,” he moaned over and over again.
“Bullies” 199byNancy KnightHis body heaved constantly with his grief. In the eight years we knew Rich,none of us had ever seen his father. Rich had tried hard to survive but family didn’t seem to work for Rich,and the bullying he was enduring at his school made things worse. Hebegan to realize that he wouldn’t be a pilot early on. His marks started todrop. His grandparents couldn’t get help for him at school. The part-timejob he managed to get didn’t work out either. But Rich was always there for David. Once, when the two boysventured out for an evening at a new friend’s house, David turned a cornerinto the living room and came face to face with Aaron Bradford. “Fuck you,man,” Aaron said and headed towards David. David turned and raced forthe front door. Aaron almost caught up, but Rich was there faster and stoodbetween them. “He’s my friend. Leave him alone,” Rich snarled. “I’m out of here,” David said. “Yah, me too,” Rich replied as they headed for the car. Then Rich got into an accident in his mom’s Ford Escort. He neededmoney to pay for the extra insurance rates if he wanted to drive it again. SoRich tried to set up his own business at the vocational school he had juststarted attending. He purchased a set of scales, plastic bags, and hismerchandise from a local drug dealer, stored it all in a closet at his mom’shouse, and started to sell the stuff outside of the school. Within a week, apolice cruiser drove by as he was making a deal, and Rich was in big troublefor selling marijuana. Rich was nineteen years old when he died. The poem on the memorial card reads: When I come to the end of the road and the sun has set for me I want no rites in a gloom-filled room. Why cry for a soul set free? Miss me a little--but not too long And not with your head bowed low. Remember the love that we once shared, Miss me--but let me go. For this is a journey that we all must take And each must go alone. Its all a part of the Masters plan, A step on the road to home.
“Bullies” 200byNancy Knight When you are lonely and sick of heart Go to the friends we know And bury your sorrows in doing good deeds. Miss Me--But Let me go! -author unknownWe’re trying to let it go…