Expulsion not solution for bullies

July 12, 2007

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By Marianne Meadahl

Schools and school districts preparing policies on bullying and school yard violence need to work past short-term solutions such as expulsion, says the author of a new book on bullying behaviour.

Brenda Morrison (above), an assistant professor at SFU’s Centre for Restorative Justice, advocates a health care model built on interventions that restore the social and emotional health of young people and their schools.

Morrison is author of Restoring Safe School Communities: A Whole School Response to Bullying, Violence and Alienation (2007, The Federation Press, Australia).

"We know from rigorous clinical trials that we can reduce the level of post-traumatic stress experienced by victims of serious crime through the use of restorative practices," she notes. "This is where I would be making my investment."

The aim of restorative justice is to repair the harm done to individuals and restore healthy relationships in communities—in this case, schools.

Morrison, a former researcher at Australian National University, notes a recent court ruling in that country awarded a bullying victim $1 million in damages. The government’s response was to increase principals’ power to expel children who bully.

She says expelled children won’t learn to manage future relationships. "The action fails to address the social and emotional impact of the victim, and mirrors the worst aspects of our current juvenile and criminal justice system during the formative years of a young person’s life," she notes.

B.C. schools must develop a policy on bullying by fall. "The nature of that policy is the cat in a bag," says Morrison. "If schools decide on a short-term vision we could be creating more harm than good.

"If they take the opportunity to widen the lens on issues surrounding bullying behaviour there’s a better chance of addressing the root cause and the wider dynamic that enables it."

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