Schools are obliged to take action to prevent bullying and violence. Also, there can be serious consequences for those who bully or are violent. As a victim or a parent, how can you recognize bullying or violence at school? What support services are available?
For Quebec schools, the law defines bullying as including these elements:
- repeated actions or words
- the behaviour excludes or hurts the victim and makes the victim feel powerless
- the bully has power over the victim
Behaviour that includes these elements is bullying even if the bully does not intend to cause harm.
Behaviour can be bullying even if the victim is not present. For example, a bully could say hurtful things about the victim to someone else, and the victim could find out about it later. Bullying can also take place over the Internet. It’s called cyberbullying.
For Quebec schools, the law defines violence as the use of force against someone. Unlike bullying, violence is always intentional. It can be
- verbal or written,
- psychological, or
Violence can be used against people or their property.
Real-life examples of bullying and violence at school
Here are some real examples of bullying and violence at school.
- A student was called ugly and insulted her in other ways. Other students threw objects at her and hit her with a lunch box.
- A student is called names and ridiculed in front of others. Her books are thrown on the ground. The student is threatened with physical violence. Water is thrown at her.
- A student has her hair pulled and is called names. Other students hide her belongings. Threatening notes are left in her desk. She is punched in the chest and face. She is cornered in the washroom and touched inappropriately.
Schools must act
Plan to prevent and stop bullying
The law requires every school to have a plan that includes steps to prevent and stop bullying and violence.
The plan must include these things:
- steps to prevent bullying
- a procedure for reporting cases of bullying
- measures to make sure complaints remain confidential
- the action to be taken against bullies when bullying is reported by a student, teacher, friend, etc.
- ways to support victims or witnesses of bullying or violence
The plan must be sent to the parents. Also, students must be given training on bullying and told what action will be taken against bullies.
Role of school employees
School employees must protect students from violence and bullying.
Public school principals must receive complaints of bullying and violence, and then let the parents know.
In a private school, a member of the board of governors must promptly tell the parents when bullying or violence is reported and explain what action will be taken.
Consequences for bullies
The school’s plan against bullying and violence must also include the action to be taken against students who are bullies or are violent. The action depends on how serious the behaviour is. It can include detention, a letter of apology, suspension and even being expelled from the school.
Important! Serious acts of bullying or violence can be crimes. In these cases, the police might get involved.
Victims: getting help
Students being bullied can talk to their parents, friends, teachers and school support staff. Once school employees are aware of a situation, they have a duty to help and to put into practice the plan to prevent and stop on bullying.
Students can also contact support organizations such as Kids Help Phone and Tel-jeunes.
Complaints against a school’s decision
Students can file a complaint if they feel that their rights have not been respected. For example, a student accused of bullying or violence could complain that action was taken against them before they had a chance to explain. Or a victim could complain that the school didn’t act quickly enough to stop bullying or violence.
How to make a complaint depends on whether the student goes to a public school or a private school.
Public schools: Make a complaint to the school board. Each year, the school board must tell parents and students about the procedure for filing a complaint. If you’re not satisfied with what the school board does, contact the school board’s Student Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is an independent person whose responsibilities include assisting students and their parents and investigating and giving an opinion on complaints made to the school board.
Private schools: Make a complaint to the school’s board of governors. If you’re not satisfied with the action taken by the board of governors, you can file a complaint with the private education section of the ministry of education, called the Direction de l’enseignement privé (Web page in French only).
Victims of bullying can also take legal action in the courts for harm they suffer.