What is Bullying?
Alberta’s provincial legislation defines bullying as: repeated and hostile or demeaning behaviour by an individual in the school community where the behaviour is intended to cause harm, fear or distress to one or more other individuals in the school community, including psychological harm or harm to an individual’s reputation. It can focus on: disability; sexual orientation; gender identity; sexuality; race/ethnicity/religion; or other issues.
Bullying and the Alberta Law
In Alberta, there is formal legislation on bullying under the School Act. The legislation is a commitment of the school community to ensure a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment. The legislation specifically prohibits students from bullying others in, during the school day or by electronic means (cyberbullying). Students have an obligation to report bullying behaviour, including cyberbullying. Furthermore, school boards must establish a code of conduct for students that addresses bullying behaviour.
For more details on cyberbullying legislation, including federal legislation, please visit: Legal Consequences of Cyberbullying
Legal Requirements for Private Schools in Alberta
Private schools are included within the definition of school in The School Act. Section 28 of the Act authorizes two kinds of private schools to operate in Alberta: registered private schools and accredited private schools. Both registered and accredited private schools are subject to ministerial regulation. This means the Minister may make regulations respecting private schools and so the same responsibilities that public schools owe to maintain a safe and inclusive environment also apply to private schools.
Charter schools, which are specialized non-profit public schools, are bound by the same laws and regulations as standard public schools.
Bullying and Cyberbullying Prevention
Educators share responsibility with parents and other adults in students’ lives to nurture the development of the social emotional skills that students need to engage in healthy relationships, and to teach students that bullying is wrong and unacceptable. Educators have the responsibility to model and promote anti-bullying behaviours in schools.
These are your rights as an educator:
- You have the right to invite parents or legal guardians to review the code of conduct for students that addresses bullying behaviour.
- You have the right to encourage parents and legal guardians to:
- Help their children abide by the school’s code of conduct; and
- Demonstrate positive behaviours that include showing appreciation and respect for diversity, and engaging in positive, non-violent conflict resolution.
- You have the right to ask for parents or legal guardians to take an active interest in their child’s academic and social progress.
- You have the right to encourage parents or legal guardians to communicate regularly with the school if there is a concern about bullying, including cyberbullying.
This is what is expected of you as an educator:
At the Classroom/School Level:
- You are expected to model high standards for safe, caring and responsible behaviours.
- You are expected to maintain consistent expectations of positive behaviour for all students.
- You are expected to collaborate with parents and legal guardians in promoting a safe and caring learning environment.
- You are expected to address incidents that occur away from the school building, including cyberbullying, but that affect the school by being injrious to the physical or mental well-being of others in the school.
- The principal is expected to suspend, or in extreme situations, expel, a student if, in the opinion of the teacher or principal, the student’s conduct, whether or not the conduct occurs within the school building, during the school day, or through electronic means, is injurious to the physical or mental well-being of others in the school.
When a bullying or cyberbully situation occurs
If a student discloses, or if you as an educator have witnessed that a student has been bullied at school or cyberbullied, or if you hear about it from school personnel or someone else, the legislation does not specifically outline a course of action. The following recommendations are offered by PREVNet as a guideline in maintaining a safe learning environment.
At the Classroom/School Level:
- You are responsible for ensuring school principals or their delegates are told of the incident, so that they can investigate and address reports of bullying and cyberbullying, including notifying parents/guardians in a timely fashion.
- Delegated school personnel are responsible for working with the parents/guardians and principal in developing and implementing a safety plan for a student who has been bullied, so that he/she can feel safe at school and going to and from school.
- Delegated school personnel are responsible for checking in with the bullied student on a regular basis (e.g., daily, every few days, weekly, biweekly, monthly etc.) to ensure the bullying has stopped and the situation is resolved.
- Delegated school personnel are responsible for consistently monitoring the student who bullied to ensure that the student is no longer perpetuating bullying behaviour.
- You should expect there is a progressive discipline policy in place that guides the choice of just and effective responses to bullying. Progressive discipline means that initially students who bully receive consequences that help them learn from the experience and take responsibility for their actions, known as “formative consequences”. If bullying behaviour continues, consequences progress in severity. Consequences always take into account the unique characteristics of the situation which include:
- the developmental level of the involved students;
- the prior history of the involved students;
- exceptionalities of the involved students;
- the severity of the incident; and
- the harm that was done to the student who was bullied.
At the School Board Level:
- You should expect there is school board policy in place affirming the school board’s commitment to a safe and positive learning environment.
- You should expect that there is a policy in place about sharing information with parents/guardians while maintaining the privacy of all students.
- You should expect there are guidelines in place outlining the school board’s responsibility to become involved in a bullying situation when there is an enduring problem that has not been successfully resolved at the school level.
- You should expect that there is a policy in place regarding removing a student from school if repeated bullying behaviours compromise a safe learning environment.
- You should expect that the policy and role of the school board in decision making involving suspensions, removals, and expulsions is clearly explained to parents, as are the procedures for resolving issues.
At the Ministry Level:
- You should expect there are resources available to provide the necessary supports to students who have been bullied, who have bullied others, and who have witnessed bullying.
- You should expect that the role of the Ministry in decision making involving suspensions, removals, and expulsions is clearly explained to parents, as are the procedures for resolving issues.
- You should expect that there are alterative programs in place for youth who were removed from their community schools, and plans are made for a supported re-entry when possible.
Remember to consider your own behaviour, despite any disagreements or hostility you may encounter. Children and youth closely watch what the adults in their life do and are influenced as much by your actions as your words. When students see you being respectful and empathic towards others, even when you disagree, they are more likely to behave the same way.
For more resources, please visit: http://www.prevnet.ca