As parents, we all try to do our best to protect our children and we assume that teachers and administrators will do the same. At least that is what I assumed when my daughter was at Havergal College, a Toronto-based private school. I never would have imagined that any school would cover up the violent behaviours of a child, take no action to stop the bullying, and put other children at risk of serious harm. Here are a few things that I learned as a parent of a bullied child that may be helpful to other parents.
1. The Money Factor
It’s important to remember that private schools are businesses. Whether they are a non-profit or not, they negotiate contracts with individual teachers as opposed to having a union negotiate a blanket contract. This means that teachers have a financial interest in the success and reputation of the school. Therefore, you may also encounter a situation where bullies are protected because they have wealthy and influential family members, or where problems are dismissed for the sake of the school’s reputation. Since my own daughter’s experience of being bullied was reported in the media, I have since had many people share with me their similar, and equally painful, experiences.
2. Have a Team
When attending a meeting at the school, I recommend bringing someone along with you that can support your claims and be another witness to the discussion. With the support of someone you know in the room, you will feel less anxious and more prepared to vocalize your concerns.
3. You May Be Recorded
Any meeting that you have with an administrator or teacher may be recorded, either in writing or with a device. The recording may not accurately reflect your recollection of the meeting so be aware of what information you are sharing, how you are phrasing your sentiments and questions, and do not feel pressured to answer questions that make you uncomfortable. To decrease the likelihood of false recordings, let the teacher or administration know that you will be taking notes of your own or recording the meeting with your phone. This will be helpful if there are discrepancies down the road.
4. Private schools have different standards of accountability
In a publicly funded school, you have the full protection of the regional school board, the Ministry of Education, the Children’s Aid Society, as well as access to a tribunal for extreme cases in which students are expelled from the school. Children attending a private school are denied these normal protections. The Ontario Education Act, except in a very limited manner, does not apply to private schools. If you have concerns about what is happening at the school, and your complaints to teachers and administrators are being ignored, your only recourse may be in the courts.
Furthermore, your child may be asked to leave or be expelled in order to reduce public attention on the situation. It may be possible to get before a Superior Court judge and obtain an injunction stopping the private school from expelling the child. Mr. Allan Kaufman, a lawyer, did exactly this more than a decade ago when his own child was expelled from a private school for illegitimate reasons. The case Kaufman v Leo Baeck Day School ruled in favor of Mr. Kaufman and an injunction prevented the school from expelling his child.
However, many parents are not lawyers and are not brave enough to speak out on the actions of powerful private schools. They are often afraid of the repercussions of speaking out and the possibility of ostracization their children may face.
5. Do Your Research
One thing you can do before you enroll your children is research. Most importantly, look for online information that is not shared by the school, but by alumni or current students. Conversations on parent forums or community pages will give you a better sense of the culture at the school. This search will give you insights into what your child can expect beyond the glossy brochures and long after enrollment.
If your child is a victim of bullying and you believe the school is not doing enough to provide you a remedy, we are here to help. As a father and the founder of my firm, I make it a top priority to support other parents going through similar situations. Our dedicated staff can provide you with advice and solutions. Remember, your child’s future is at stake. Contact us today.