Nepean HS parent troubled by ‘culture of silence’ after son was beaten in bathroom

The mother of a Nepean High School student who was beaten in a school laundry room says the incident opened her eyes to a “culture of silence” around school violence.

Sarah Murray said that despite the incident being videotaped and shared among students this month, there was virtual silence from school management.

“No one is talking about this violent attack. I am in shock,” she said. CBC News has seen a copy of the video, which was also shared with the school administration.

“He was beaten and kneeling in the face and head. People walk by who are completely indifferent.”

Murray’s son told her that the video was made after he stood up to an older boy who was bullying a student with a disability.

The older boy challenged her son to a fight and after he refused, he was forced into the washroom by a group, Murray said.

“What else aren’t they talking about?”

Murray said her son was concerned about reprisals that prevented him from coming to her until the day after the incident, when the school board learned of it.

“Other parents deserve to know this happened so they can advocate for a better school environment,” she said.

“If they don’t report a violent attack in the bathroom, what else are they not talking about?”

VIEW | Parent criticizes ‘radio silence’ after son was attacked in school bathroom:

Parent criticizes ‘radio silence’ after son was attacked in school bathroom

Sarah Murray, whose son was attacked at Nepean High School, said she was alarmed to see a video of the incident taken by bystanders and frustrated by the silence surrounding the attack.

She said the school board only learned of the attack while she was interviewing the older boy about something else.

Murray said, speaking to her son about the incident, she has learned that many younger boys do not feel safe in the school toilets because they are concerned about violence, illegal behavior and being admitted there.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board confirmed that a student was assaulted and injured in a bathroom at Nepean High School. (Jonathan Dupaul/CBC)

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) confirmed that a student was injured in an attack that took place in a bathroom at Nepean High School, but declined to comment on most details of how the incident unfolded and was handled, citing referring to privacy.

The public administration acknowledged there was a delay in initially contacting Murray’s family and said staff have since apologized.

The OCDSB said violating students are generally suspended while the director’s investigation is underway and that, depending on whether medical attention is required, the police will also be notified.

When should the police be called in?

Ottawa police said they charged a youth with assault causing physical harm and that official reports were not filed until two days after the incident – that’s a day after both the school board and Murray learned of it.

Murray said she doesn’t understand why the school waited to talk to the police.

She spoke to police the day she found out and filed a formal complaint the following day, after her son was assessed at CHEO for his concussion.

Nepean High School on Broadview Avenue in Ottawa on October 15, 2020. (Jonathan Dupaul/CBC)

The board said the police can be contacted immediately in response to an active life-threatening situation or pending crime, but when an incident is reported retrospectively, an administrator can choose to refer the matter to the police once sufficient information has been gathered.

“These decisions may be made by the administrator or in consultation with their superintendent of instruction or other senior personnel,” the board statement said.

Murray said her family’s experience with the police has been helpful and empathetic, and she wonders whether school personnel officers should be reinstated so that school personnel can’t spend time on these investigations.

“Administrators are educators, they are not police and they do not have the power to press charges,” she said.

Murray, who is a teacher on another board, said the police could also build better relationships with staff and students.

“Police can form relationships with troubled kids so they can change their behavior before it’s too late.”

The OCDSB did not address CBC’s question about a school resource officer at Nepean High School in its statement.

Address school culture, says prof

Tracy Vaillancourt, Canada Research Chair on Mental Health and School Violence Prevention, said research suggests that restrooms and other areas with less supervision are often considered dangerous in high schools.

She said that adolescents are more reluctant than younger children when it comes to asking adult help with bullying — even though it is effective at stopping that behavior.

However, she said several parts of the situation at Nepean High School stood out – that a student was attacked after standing up for someone and other students did not come forward.

“There were witnesses to the attack, they recorded it. The person holding the phone should have left and got help instead of picking it up,” Vaillancourt said.

“The whole school is complicit when things like this happen. If this kind of negative behavior, this kind of violent behavior happens and no one intervenes, then there’s something wrong with the culture in that school.”

Given the timing of the incident, she said the school board should take the time this summer to review the problems at the school, identify areas that are unsafe and find a way to connect with students so they can step forward. about what’s wrong.

Vaillancourt said research has shown that Ontario’s school resources program has had limited success over the past 20 years.

Tracy Vaillancourt is the Canada Research Chair in Child Mental Health and Violence Prevention at the University of Ottawa. (Caitlin Taylor/CBC)

Supervision by teachers and other adults outside of class time and in hard-to-control places like restrooms is an important part of prevention, Vaillancourt said.

Her survey of the prevalence of bullying in Ontario schools during the 2020-21 school year found that the increase in adult surveillance and smaller cohorts associated with COVID-19 health measures contributed to a 50 percent decrease compared to pre -pandemic statistics.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board sign in the main building on Greenbank Road. (Danny Globerman/CBC)

In its statement, the OCDSB said the safety of students and staff remains its top priority.

It will release the district-wide results of its school climate survey “soon.”

The board said it will use the data to work with students, parents and guardians to identify ways to improve safety, including tackling and preventing bullying, as well as monitoring to track progress.

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