School bullying no better, or worse, says Coombs

St. Francis school council chair not aware of increased bullying incidents

Melissa Jenkins
Published on February 21, 2014

The chair of the St. Francis school council in Harbour Grace said he has actively approached the school when he has heard concerns of bullying from parents, and doesn't believe the situation is out of control.

The Compass published parental accounts of bullying at the school in its Feb. 17 print edition, and later online. The article generated a considerable amount of debate and comments, both online and in the community.

The Compass decided to pursue the story after receiving multiple complaints from adults who have children attending the school.

Don Coombs, who chairs both St. Francis and Carbonear Collegiate school councils, said it’s been a number of months since he has heard anything about the issue. But he does go to the school when parents contact him about bullying concerns.

“The first (reported incident) was from a professional individual,” Coombs told The Compass Feb, 21. “I wanted to make sure that (principal Gary Barrett) was addressing it as the administration. He assured me he was.”

Although he has not heard from parents about bullying in recent months, Coombs does say it is a problem in any school, St. Francis included.

“St. Francis is no worse, or no better, than other schools in the province with respect to bullying,” he said.

The few incidents Coombs is aware of have been addressed, and he said they do not appear to be lingering issues. Nor does he believe bullying to be a widespread issue in the school.

“I’ve been up to (the school), because I think it’s the role of school council to ensure that it is a safe and caring school environment for learning, and everything else,” Coombs said, adding he has not seen anything to the contrary.

He explained he does speak to the administration — at both St. Francis and Carbonear Collegiate — at the beginning of every school year about bullying. It is also something he spoke about this year at the consultation meeting at Ascension Collegiate in Bay Roberts for school chairpersons.

“I did bring up at that meeting that we entrust our children with schools from the time they get out on the road in the morning for the bus until they get home, and bullying is a part of it,” Coombs said. “We have to be transparent, and we have to be consistent about dealing with these issues.”

He also admits there may be times a parent doesn’t believe enough is being done with regards to a bullying situation.

“I wouldn’t have any problem going to a principal of a school if my son or daughter was getting bullied,” Coombs said. “If it wasn’t addressed, I know there are other options, and certainly would take it higher. But go in, sit down with the administration first and try to have it dealt with.”

The Compass contacted principal Gary Barrett, but he declined comment.

One of the big concerns Coombs said he has come across is social media impacting the way a story is relayed. He has seen it about possible bullying issues.

“I think, some people get on Facebook and they go overboard with it,” he explained. “Instead of putting out information, it gets blown out of proportion. But nobody needs to be taking runs at anybody else.”

Coombs said he has been to the school on several occasions and knows there are things being done to curb bullying and deal with those types of situations.

“I’ve been assured, there’s a structure in place,” he said. “We will be discussing the issue this week at the school council meeting.”

The school council meets Tuesday, Feb. 26, which is also anti-bullying day at the school.