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Parents at TDSB school say battle against bully has been 1 step forward, 2 steps back

WATCH ABOVE: Parents of a 10-year-old girl, who claim her school is ignoring ongoing bullying, have finally met with senior TDSB staff. They say while it was a productive meeting, a newsletter put out by the principal has ruined the progress made. Christina Stevens reports.

Ten-year-old Jordan Blakely had no hesitation describing what being bullied was like.

“I felt scared, disgusted and upset,” she said.

This week she told Global News that she’s too scared to go to school. During one incident a teacher shooed them inside as they were chased by a bigger boy.

“He tells us, ‘Go hide in the stairwell for your safety,'” Jordan recalled.

She has not been to school since Dec. 9.

READ MORE: Another student says she has been bullied out of Toronto District School Board school

Jordan’s parents said the principal of Chester Elementary School has ignored ongoing bullying.

Now they have finally met with senior Toronto District School Board staff and said the superintendent agreed to investigate their claims

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“It is a relief because it has been very stressful not only for my daughter but myself and the rest of my family,” Matt Blakeley, Jordan’s dad, said.

The head of safe schools insisted everyone from the TDSB has done their job thoroughly, even though Jordan’s parents claimed to date the principal has not talked directly to Jordan to get her version of events.

Another child has also stopped going to school.

READ MORE: 10-year-old Toronto District School Board student claims he has been bullied out of school

Other parents have brought similar concerns about bullying at the same school to Global News.

During an interview with Global News, Ted Libera, the TDSB’s central coordinating principal for caring and safe schools, was asked if he would commit to an outside investigation to look into what’s happening at the school.

“I don’t think that’s my place to make a commitment like that,” he said, adding it might be up to the superintendent.

He said if parents aren’t happy with the superintendent’s response, they can reach out to the executive superintendent.

Jordan’s parents said by finally getting a meeting, it felt like progress.

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READ MORE: 10-year-old boy speaks out about repeated bullying, parents say TDSB isn’t doing enough

Then they saw the weekly newsletter sent out to all families at Chester Elementary School.

The newsletter was about Global News’ reports on bullying allegations at the school.

“It is unfortunate that Global has chosen to air this piece without seeking to understand the whole story. As you all likely understand, we are unable to respond to specifics as it would impact upon the privacy of a number of families. I will say that the situation as described in the piece is far from complete,” principal Sean Hume wrote.

He described how seriously the school takes student conflict and bullying, as well as explaining some of their programs.

“Again, conflict is part of life,” he wrote near the end of the newsletter.

READ MORE: How safe do Toronto students feel? Depends where they study

Although they said they were “appalled” by the letter, Jordan’s dad said the number of other parents from the same school who contacted them to say they have the same concerns about bullying has lifted their spirits.

“People are standing up and people are coming forward and making their stories known and telling their side of what is happening to them and in that way it is good. Ultimately what is going on is a very bad situation.”

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Full text of the principal’s message in the Chester E.S. News’ “End week seventeen” edition:

I know that many of you have seen or heard about the recent reports on Global news concerning our school community. I know that some of you may be concerned and many others curious. It is unfortunate that Global has chosen to air this piece without seeking to understand the whole story. As you all likely understand, we are unable to respond to specifics as it would impact upon the privacy of a number of families. I will say that the situation as described in the piece is far from complete and the characterization of the 10 year old as a violent safety concern is at odds with our experience and investigation.

We treat all incidents of student conflict seriously. We work diligently with students to ensure they understand the consequences of their behaviour and to ensure they are able to make better choices in the future. We try to engage with families involved to ensure all students are being supported on multiple fronts. Student safety and emotional well-being is a high priority as without it learning cannot happen. The staff here at Chester work diligently to support all students to succeed.

The staff at Chester infuse each and every lesson with opportunities to work effectively together. Both in class and out students are taught to be respectful, inclusive and safe. We find this approach to be more effective than a one- off anti-bullying assembly as it becomes an integral part of the daily life of our community. Conflicts are a part of life and learning how to respond to them a vital life skill. Our Police Community Liaison Officer supports these efforts with classroom presentations to each class around bullying and inclusiveness. Partnerships with organizations like the U of T, Toronto Public Health and others bring the message of inclusion of diversity and healthy relationship building. Our OPAL assemblies recognize specific students for their efforts in caring for one another while grade level Character Trait recognitions highlight the skills necessary for good citizenship. Individual classroom community circles happen with regular frequency to assist students in problem solving while allowing for student voice in a respectful manner.

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Moving forward this year our school’s Well Being/Caring and Safe Committee, in partnership with our Public Health Nurses, will roll out a Stress Lessons Toolkit to work with our junior students and teachers on what stress is, how to identify it and help students to express themselves. Tied into this program is the continued use of Mindup a series of lessons that help students to develop and maintain a positive attitude. In the latter part of the year we will be working with the Public Health nurse to implement a program called PALS that help develop leadership in school yard activities. This will blend in with the OPAL program that promotes positive school yard play and leadership building on student risk taking and resiliency.

Our parent council is a powerful ally in supporting us in this work. They organise and run a number of family events and parent workshops that allow us all to come together in community and know each other better. Inclusiveness and understanding comes out of familiarity and belonging. The family fun nights and the committee work that supports them go a long way to building a safer and more caring community.

Again, conflict is part of life. We are here to work with you and your children towards the goal of a peaceful, respectful and safe learning environment. We welcome your input in that process and invite you to share your concerns, suggestions and expertise.

Your children are in good hands, surrounded by a cohort of great kids and caring teachers. Please rest assured that your children continue to be learning in a supportive and safe environment.

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Yours in partnership,

Sean