Clearly there is a problem at Princeton Secondary School.
Now this problem exists in every school, and likely in every social group and workplace to varying degrees.
However at PSS concerns about bullying, particularly in the current Grade Nine class, have escalated to the point where RCMP have specially been called in to address students. Staff and administrators are grappling with strategies to cope with situations arising weekly and sometimes daily.
Pink Shirt Day was less than a month ago, by the by.
In interviews published last week in The Spotlight, principal Patrick Kaiser and a local police constable understandably declined to comment on the details of conflicts that have created the present dysfunction.
Children’s identities and privacy must be protected.
However if there is even 25 per cent truth in half of the stories that have been shared privately with the newspaper in the past few days, it is fair to characterize the school culture as being in crisis.
It may be time for some tough love.
The School Act gives a board the right to suspend, dismiss or discipline a student for causing physical, sexual or emotional harm.
The Act informs district policy, which in Nicola-Similkameen states that a principal may suspend a student for up to five days for failing to comply with the school’s code of conduct.
(Codes come down pretty firmly on the need for kids to respect others, keep their hands to themselves and be nice.)
Indefinite suspensions – those longer than five days – are subject to a review process involving the district superintendent. In all cases a suspended student must be given access to education through alternative means.
All of this is supported by expert opinions and documentation which stress the notion that suspending or expelling students is not an effective way to deal with bullies.
In fairness to PSS administrators, they appear to be following the policies in place. That is all they are allowed to do, and they face circumstances that must be overwhelming given the fact they are trained to be educators, not probation officers.
That said, physically harming another person, or threatening to kill or injure someone, are more than breaches of school rules.
Those are crimes, and a person over the age of 12 can be charged with a crime.
Fair to assume the RCMP wouldn’t relish being called for every playground skirmish or case of hurt feelings, but adults are commonly charged with uttering threats and assault. Indeed those files comprise the bread and butter of Princeton circuit court dockets.
Just this month a 14-year-old Keremeos boy was awarded a nine month suspended sentence in youth court here after pleading guilty to assaulting another teen with a pair of scissors.
That incident did not occur in school, but what if it had?
A crime is a crime whether it is committed in a campground, the kitchen, the conservatory, the dining hall, the library or the science lab.
Parents may not be encouraged by school authorities to pursue criminal charges related to occurrences that take place between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday to Friday, but it is absolutely their right to do so.
Resolutions in youth court are meant in the main to be rehabilitative rather than punitive, and can also ensure a level of protection. In the case of the kid with the scissors, for example, he is now prohibited by law from having contact with the victim.
Frequently we are reminded that school is the place where children are prepared for adulthood and ‘the real world.’
The real world includes law enforcement.