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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


@portmoodypigeon
patrick.penner@missioncityrecord.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Mission

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

Just Posted

Prince Rupert’s Bobby Brown celebrated his 95th birthday milestone on March 5 with family across the country in an online celebration. (Photo: supplied by Jodi Brown)
Prince Rupert man celebrates 95th birthday milestone online

Five generations come together COVID-19 style in Prince Rupert to say “Happy Birthday”

Main door at Cranes Crossing, Prince Rupert’s homeless shelter, on March 5. Northern Health issued a public notice of potential exposure occurring at the shelter between Feb. 22 and 24. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
COVID-19 Public Exposure Notice issued for Prince Rupert’s homeless shelter

Northern Health said possible exposure between Feb. 22 and 24

Air Canada cancelled flights to Prince Regional Airport on Jan. 23, 2021 due to loss of ridership during COVID-19. An Air Canada Rouge takes off from Montreal in March 20, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)
BC Liberals call for immediate action and support for B.C. airports

Prince Rupert Regional Airport and others across the province struggle with COVID-19 effects

Paul Williams rector of St. Andrews Cathedral in Prince Rupert sits in front of the 95-year-old pipe organ on March 5. The church has put out a community call for volunteers to play the instrument to keep it fresh and operational. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
St. Andrews Cathedral pipe organ needs players to make it sing

Prince Rupert volunteers who want to practice their playing skills are welcome

Alex Campbell, Velna Nelson, Beatrice Robinson and Ellen Mason take part in the Sm’algyax Word App and website launched by School District 52 on March 1. (Photo: Supplied by Roberta Edzera)
Prince Rupert SD 52 launches new Sm’algyax word app and website

Database for new language resources stems back more than 30 years

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead on Vancouver Island in ‘targeted incident’

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Personal protective equipment is seen in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
$16.9 million invested to improve worker safety, strengthen B.C.’s food supply chain

Money to be used for social distancing, personal protective equipment, cleaning, and air circulation

More than ever before, as pandemic conditions persist, the threat of data breaches and cyberattacks continues to grow, according to SFU professor Michael Parent. (Pixabay photo)
SFU expert unveils 5 ways the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed cybersecurity

Recognizing these changes is the first in a series of steps to mitigate them once the pandemic ends, and before the next: Michael Parent

This photo of Cheryl-Lynn Townsin and her daughter, Lexi, is part of Townsin’s documentary, RARE HUMANS - Turning Hope into Action, her capstone project for her graduate degree from Royal Roads University. (Photo courtesy of Cheryl-Lynn Townsin)
Vancouver Island mom’s grief fuels documentary of ‘Turning Hope into Action’

Lexi, 6, died in 2019 from Blau Syndrome and is among the children documented

Most Read