B.C. launches anti-bullying website

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The launch of the ERASE Bullying website (erasebullying.ca) on Nov. 13 is the latest addition to the B.C. government’s 10-point anti-bullying strategy. The website not only provides students, parents and educators with resources and information; it also offers students a place to anonymously report incidents online.

“A lot of times, bullying doesn’t just happen physically in the schoolyard; it happens 24-7,” said Minister of Education Don McRae at the Nov. 13 ERASE summit in Vancouver.  “It happens in your home, when you’re online, and then it comes into the school system as well. It’s a really changing environment, and so our strategy needs to evolve with this changing environment.”

The ERASE program — an acronym for Expect Respect And a Safe Education — was announced on June 1 by Premier Christy Clark. The five-year training plan for 15 000 educators and community members began in October, and the Ministry of Education held an overview training session for the safe school co-ordinators for each of B.C.’s 60 school districts. The ministry says training will cover violence threat risk assessment and fostering safe and caring school communities.

The ERASE reporting tool allows students to report a bullying incident that they witnessed or were involved in, and this information is securely sent to the safe school co-ordinator in that student’s school district. The safe school co-ordinator then decides the appropriate action to take or alerts the police if necessary. This system will also help identify bullying trends and hot spots in B.C.

The program is the first strategy to combat bullying that is co-ordinated across the province. Between 1994 and 2006, at least one in three adolescent students in Canada reported being bullied recently. Peer victimization online is so common that the term cyberbullying was added to the Oxford English dictionary in 2011. The consequences of bullying are at the forefront of B.C.’s social conscience after Coquitlam 15-year-old Amanda Todd committed suicide last month because of cyberbullying.

Sibylle Artz, a professor at UVic’s school of child and youth care, commends the thoroughness of resources on the ERASE website but believes that localized, team-based approaches are most effective in reducing bullying in schools.

“It’s always terrific to have some resource [like the ERASE website] to consult,” says Artz, “but it doesn’t take the place of somebody helping you. And it can’t take the place of human support and human interaction.”

Artz was involved in a five-year project beginning in 1995 in 22 schools in a lower Vancouver Island school district. The project reduced school-based violence by 40 per cent according to tracked incident reports, vandalism repair costs and surveys. This was achieved by having a team at each school made up of students, teachers, parents and community members who assessed their school’s particular needs and developed their own violence prevention program.

“I think that one co-ordinator per district isn’t enough. When we did our program, which worked very well, we had a team in each school because each school is a culture unto itself. And with that vast age range, K through 12, there are really important development differences in elementary schools, middle schools and high schools.”

Artz also highlights the importance of regularly evaluating anti-bullying programs and changing them as they go — a strategy both Minister McRae and staff at the Ministry of Education incorporated into the ERASE Bullying program.

“The ERASE Bullying strategy is a long-term, evolutionary project,” said Minister McRae at the summit.  “If we’re missing the mark and we need to do better, then we can continue to evolve the website and the program to meet the needs of our pretty dynamic and exciting culture.”

The ministry is currently developing community protocols and provincial guidelines while reviewing feedback gathered at the anti-bullying summit. The summit brought together young people, educators and experts to discuss how to deal with bullying online and in schools across the province.

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