A group of students at Penticton Secondary School are circulating a petition in support of another student ordered by school administration to cover up scars caused by cutting herself.
Grade 10 student Ashley Docherty said her friend shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed.
“Our student body has decided to create a petition to allow anyone to support our rights as students to not feel ashamed for having scars,” she said.
In January the student, whom Global News chose not to identify to protect her privacy, received a “letter of assurance” from administration.
The student told Global News she felt she was being shamed and posted the letter to Facebook.
The letter addresses behavioral and academic requirements as well as says “the student will adhere to the school dress code and ensure that long-sleeved shirts are worn while at school. The student may not create an unwelcome environment at Penticton Secondary School through the exposure of cutting to other students.”
The letter states that the student could face suspension if she didn’t comply with the orders.
Child psychologist Dr. Kate Aubrey said the action taken by the school was inappropriate.
“It can increase shame and stigma associated with mental health and associated with self-harm or depression and so typically we don’t ask children or adolescents to cover themselves,” Aubrey said.
Aubrey disputed the notion that exposure to self-harm creates an unwelcome environment for other students.
“Exposure to scars whether they are fresh or older is not going to be triggering to youth. Unfortunately self-harm is very much a part of the adolescent culture these days,” she said.
Aubrey said self-harm can be a cry for help.
“Self-harming is a way that teens and adolescents can sometimes feel control over their emotions,” she said. It’s rarely a suicidal gesture however it should be taken very seriously.”
The student who received the letter said administration later retracted the long-sleeve clothing requirement after an uproar from the student body.
Docherty is calling for more mental health outreach services to be provided as opposed to relying on youth to contact school counsellors on their own.
“It’s more of the awareness so maybe it should even be like maybe a class that we should be going to, maybe learning more about it in class,” she said.
Docherty’s father, Peter, said he agrees more needs to be done to address youth mental health.
“Being a single father with four girls we’ve had a lot of mental issues over the past years, I’ve found that there is a really hard problem with getting the help they need,” he said.
Okanagan Skaha School District superintendent Wendy Hyer declined to comment on the specific incident citing privacy.
A statement issued by the school district says “The School District is dedicated to ensuring the safety and well-being of all our students. Planning for student safety, including understanding and addressing self-harm, is undertaken by the team of professionals often involving members of our larger multidisciplinary community support teams. We approach all situations mindful of individual circumstances and best practices for safety, including self-harm and suicide prevention in our schools. In particularly complex cases, the district will also reach out to the Ministry of Educations provincial experts in the field of Risk Assessment and Trauma response for additional guidance and support.”
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