Mum: System soft on bullies

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 05:00 02/09/2012
Teuila Soochoon
DRASTIC ACTION: Teuila Soochoon's son has moved schools after chronic bullying, even though his former school says it resolved the issue.

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A mother who pulled her son from school after he was assaulted says the education system is geared towards helping the bullies rather than the victims.

Her son's situation spiralled out of control to the point where the police are now involved. However, the principal says he did everything in his power to address the problem.

Teuila Soochoon said she is speaking out due to fears other schools have not heeded an ombudsman's warning that bullying must stop.

She said that from the age of 11 her son was hit over the head, shoved, racially abused, had his lunch repeatedly stolen and sports gear taken by a group of bullies at Sancta Maria Catholic College in Auckland.

The physical and verbal taunts escalated over three years to the point he was assaulted during a club sports tournament, she said.

The victim, now 14, said the group of bullies would also pick on other students. He was often left in tears and scared the bullying would get dangerous.

"He might punch me or pull a knife - take it to the extreme. I thought he would hurt me or put me in hospital."

Growing increasingly frustrated, Soochoon said she complained to police and withdrew her son from the school.

“We put them into school for care and to be looked after, but this school failed. We felt like the school could no longer protect him."

The teenager said he felt safer and happier at his new school.

Police confirmed they are investigating a complaint about an incident that occurred off school grounds.

Soochoon said she cannot understand why her son was victimised. The whole family have moved to a new area, a new school and a new life but it's been at a huge financial cost.

Meanwhile, the two boys who taunted her son were stood down for just three days. Soochoon said the restorative justice system is too soft on some bullies.

"I totally blame the school. If they had hit it on the head at the start it would have been sorted. This is just one case. I don't know how many other kids suffer in other schools.”

Her cry for action comes after the Law Commission released its Harmful Digital Communications report in a bid to combat cyber-bullying.

The paper suggested the establishment of a communications tribunal as a "mini-harassment court" and mandatory anti-bullying programmes in schools. This is not the first attempt to address the issue.

The ombudsman called for better anti-bullying policies in all schools last year following a damning report that revealed pupils at Hutt Valley High were subjected to torture, extreme violence and sexual abuse.

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The ombudsman criticised schools for failing to protect victims, alert parents or report numerous attacks to police.

Sancta Maria Catholic College principal Paul Daley said he put every resource into making the school safe for the students.

“I believe as a school we did absolutely everything we could have done to resolve the situation.”

The dean and counsellor spoke to the bullies and victim, meetings were held between parents and the students given detention.

He said the victim was friends with the bullies and may have misinterpreted bullying with playing.

“He has difficulty distinguishing between harassment and what is silly behaviour. He's admitted that to the counsellor and myself.”

Daley said he believed the situation had been resolved following a family conference, and that the parents were happy with the outcome. "We were of the opinion we had it under control. I don't believe we have a problem with bullying, but that's not to say bullying does not occur."

Soochoon also turned to the Ministry of Education for help.

Zoning rules meant she could not simply enrol her son elsewhere, and the ministry sent her an application form for a directive enrolment. This allows students to move to an out-of-zone school and is often used for expelled students.

The ministry confirmed its helpdesk received a call from Soochoon complaining of an incident, but there was no further correspondence after it sent the forms.

Soochoon said she was waiting to hear back from the ministry as to whether her son, as the victim, qualified under the directive enrolment scheme.

A ministry spokesperson said it took bullying seriously, whether verbal, physical or cyber. A number of initiatives are being implemented at schools, including a behaviour crisis response service for students up to year 10.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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