Students told to bypass bullying

Bullying is not acceptable in any form was the message students at St. Francis School here got Tuesday from the Fort Frances OPP.
“At any school in the Rainy River District and here at St. Francis School, there is a zero tolerance towards bullying,” Cst. Al MacDonald said sternly as he peered down at the students gathered in the school gym.
“Everyone has been a bully at one time. Everyone has done something they shouldn’t, said something they shouldn’t,” he noted. “We have all been victims, as well.”
Cst. MacDonald was invited to speak to the students about bullying by the St. Francis safe school committee.
“What we’re trying to do is to get the message out at the first of the year because we want kids who fall into those situations to be able to say something, and to enjoy the school environment and enjoy the rest of the year,” he said afterwards.
Students were all ears as their St. Francis principal Brendan Hyatt addressed the issue.
“Yes, there is bullying at St. Francis. Yes, we know it is going on. No, we don’t accept it and no, it will not go unpunished,” he said firmly.
Cst. MacDonald discussed everything from definitions of bullying to ways to react if you are being bullied.
“Bullying is a person who is habitually cruel or overbearing, especially to smaller or weaker people,” he explained.
Various forms of bullying can include verbal teasing and taunting, non-verbal reactions, withholding recognition, or body language.
Physical violence, such as hitting or striking someone, is just as much bullying as racial teasing or unwanted sexual contact or comments.
“Remember, it is a criminal offence. You will be charged or suspended if caught being a bully,” Cst. MacDonald warned.
He added the entire school staff was working from the same definition of bullying and that anyone—even custodians—has the ability to report a bully.
“At St. Francis School, there is a united front to stop the bully and help the victim,” Cst. MacDonald said as staff members nodded in agreement. “Between the police, teachers, principal, [and] students, we can put an end to bullying.”
Cst. MacDonald urged anyone who saw bullying, or was being bullied, to tell an adult. If they were too scared, they also could drop a note into one of several Crime Stoppers boxes at the school and make authorities aware that way.
“Sometimes it is hard to tell somebody because you are afraid of being a tattle-tale,” he said. “[But] when you are reporting a bully, you are reporting a criminal offence.”
He also gave students a number of tips in dealing with bullies, either when they are the victim or when they witness someone else being intimidated.
He told children to ignore bullies, or tell them to stop and move away. He told witnesses to stand up for the victim and get help if the situation continues.
“Try not to be a loner,” he added. “If you are getting picked on, try to find a friend or friends and stick with them.”
St. Francis teacher Melanie Fafard said students needed to hear the consequences of bullying and how they could prevent it. “We hope this gets the message out to two groups—the bullies and the people being bullied,” she remarked.
Fafard added she hoped it would make kids think twice about their actions, and give victims the confidence they need to come forward and prevent further bullying from taking place.