Mom pleads for school to address schoolyard aggression

Briar Christensen and her children Rayna, 11, and Ashton, 13, stand outside London Road school, where they’ve been protesting against bullying and a lack of schoolyard supervision. Tara Jeffrey

Tara Jeffrey

A Sarnia mom calling for schools to crack down on bullying and provide more victim support has taken her plight to a busy Sarnia street — and says she won’t stop until school is safer for kids.

“It just keeps getting worse. There’s no consequences for anyone; nothing gets done,” said Briar Christensen, whose 11-year-old daughter has missed more than 40 days of school because of alleged bullying and threats by another student at London Road School.

“There’s a complete lack of supervision, here in particular,’” Christensen said last week, standing outside the school with daughter Rayna and son Ashton, who is autistic. They were demonstrating on the sidewalk with signs that read, “Violence is not normal” and “All I want for Christmas is to be safe at school.”

Christensen said she has pulled her daughter from school three times since September, after Rayna reported another student repeatedly taunting her with threats that involved death, weapons and killing her family ‑ despite a safety plan being put in place to keep them separated.

“Rayna’s concerned even about going to the bathroom, because the kid that’s been bullying her spends a lot of his time in the hallway, and he’s in the hallway alone,” she said.

“So there’s no supervision if he decides he’s going to do something.”

Christensen says her daughter’s aggressor has not been suspended.

“He has been allowed to attend every single day through this.”

She said many parents and neighbours have come forward with their own concerns about violence in the schoolyard during recess, along with families from other Sarnia schools concerned about bullying and escalating behaviour.

“Something needs to change before something tragic happens. We have heard stories of children being strangled in the yard, and I myself have witnessed children grabbing each other by the throats.”

Christensen said her main concern is a lack of supervision, noting Rayna herself wrote a letter to the school principal asking for more support.

“She would feel safer if [the child] wasn’t in school at all, but that’s not an option,” said Christensen.

She said she took to the street after exhausting all other avenues she could think of, including retaining a lawyer, reaching out to police, contacting the school, school board, Children’s Aid Society, and even Ontario’s Ombudsman.

Christensen said meetings with school board administration have been frustrating.

“They presented me with two solutions — return Rayna to school under the same safety plan that had already failed, or transfer her schools,” she said, adding that board officials did commit last week to hiring additional supervision and offered a ‘bathroom buddy’ for Rayna when she’s in the halls.

Lambton Kent District School Board director John Howitt said he couldn’t discuss specific information about individual students and circumstances to protect student privacy.

“LKDSB takes reports of bullying seriously and investigates accordingly, as all students have a right to feel safe in their school and on Board property,” he stated in an email.

“If parents/guardians have specific concerns about their child, we encourage them to speak with their child’s school to follow-up. To report bullying, students are encouraged to share information with a caring adult at home or at school.”

Parents, guardians and students can also share concerns using the Student Wellness and Bullying Intervention Hotline at each school, he added, noting a Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week was held last month.

“Everyone plays a role in promoting a positive school climate and making schools safe and accepting,” he said.

According to the Canadian Red Cross, more than half of bullied children do not report it to a teacher, and those who do have more absenteeism, less interest in school activities, lower-quality schoolwork, lower grades, and more skipping and dropping out.

“I have made it clear that this isn’t just about my kids anymore,” said Christensen.

More social work support is needed for the victims as well as the bullies, because when kids act out aggressively there’s usually underling issues, she said.

“And more immediate action taken when there’s situations with threats. The victim should not be removed from school while safety plans are developed.”

Christensen said she never pictured herself as “that mom” picketing outside of a school — but admits, “it’s the most reasonable option at this point.”

She had also organized an anti-bulling event scheduled for Dec. 13 outside the school board office.

“This isn’t OK. I am not going to watch this happen to anyone,” she said.

“No child, anywhere, deserves to go through this. They all deserve the right to go to school and feel safe at school.”