N.S. mother on the ‘horrific’ bullying her autistic son has been facing in high school

Yvonne MacKenzie says her son was bullied relentlessly at Glace Bay High School, forcing her to withdraw him from the school. Provided/ Yvonne MacKenzie

A Nova Scotia parent says the relentless bullying her son endured at his high school was never appropriately handled by administrators, and has forced her to withdraw him from the school.

Yvonne MacKenzie’s 15-year-old son, Dawson, has been a student at Glace Bay High School for two years.

During that time, she alleges the Grade 10 student has been tripped, spat on, dragged through puddles, and called derogatory names because of his autism diagnosis.

“It was pretty horrific,” she said.

MacKenzie says it was a normal occurrence for Dawson to come home crying — and even vomiting — after the abuse.

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She adds she’s reached out to the school and Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Centre for Education (CBVRCE) so many times, she’s lost count.

“We’ve sent a number of emails, phone calls, we’ve left messages — numerous. We’ve been down at the high school with these ongoing issues numerous times over the last two years and every time we were told they will deal with it. But it’s still ongoing,” she said.

Dawson requires a specialized laptop at school, which MacKenzie says was smashed and missing for days.

In those two years, MacKenzie doesn’t know if any student was reprimanded.

“Not to our knowledge. We were not notified,” she said.

When in-person learning was shut down in the province during the third COVID-19 wave, MacKenzie says her son actually thrived from learning at home. However, the bullying continued in class, so MacKenzie and her husband have opted to withdraw their son and enroll him in a new school this September.

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In the meantime, Dawson is learning from home.

“Yet we don’t feel we should have to take that route considering that we live in our catchment area of our school,” MacKenzie said.

“We did nothing wrong. We feel that we did everything that we were supposed to do. We reported the issue was ongoing and nothing has been done. However, saying that, as far as safety goes, we do not feel our son is safe at that high school.”

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A spokesperson from CBVRCE, Heather Calder, told Global News they “appreciate the concerns raised by this family and take them very seriously.”

“We are working to build an improved relationship with this family by connecting them to our parent navigator,” she wrote in part.

‘The parent navigator has reached out and made connection with this family and has facilitated the requested transfer for this student. This is a fresh start for this student and family.”

MacKenzie says the parent navigator did offer resources for her son — something the school had not offered before. She questions why counselling wasn’t available before and whether the situation will truly change for other students.

“We send our child there to be in their care and responsibility, and they are not doing that. These are our children. They are our future. And we feel they are molding them into something that, that we don’t represent,” she said.

“We would like to see something happen down at the Glace Bay High School administration, whether it be recourses, sensitivity courses, if you will. A lot more education needs to go to the administration on how to deal with this bullying system that’s ongoing down there.

In response, CBVRCE says they are committed to improving, and encourage any parent with concerns to contact their teacher or principal directly.

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“The CBVRCE aims to ensure every student and family feel welcomed at our schools and we are always working on improving our processes to better meet the needs of our school communities. Each concern is unique and requires an individualized approach,” Calder wrote.

In 2018, a 14-year-old Glace Bay High School student with cerebral palsy spoke out, after video surfaced of the student lying face down in a stream and walked on by a classmate.

That student told Global News he was pressured to do so, and that no other students helped him. At the time, his mother said she hoped sharing her son’s story would shed light on school bullying and prevent future incidents.

Click to play video: 'Video shows teens tormenting Nova Scotia boy with cerebral palsy'
Video shows teens tormenting Nova Scotia boy with cerebral palsy

Three years later, and MacKenzie says the situation hasn’t changed for students at the school and that’s why she’s speaking out as well.

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“I am doing it for my kid and I’m doing it for other kids because I can’t even imagine as a parent how other parents feel, how hopeless they feel,” she said.

Meanwhile, Dawson says he’s feeling anxious about trying a new school in the fall, but also slightly hopeful.

“Sort of,” he said.

“I’m going to miss some people that I was friends with at that high school.”

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