Just up the road from my house, there’s a high school. The one my daughter will probably attend, far down the road. In my upper-middle-class Ottawa neighbourhood, the school is a surprising sight: Tattered around the edges, looking tired and in desperate need of a facelift. The run-down outside belies some of the attitudes inside: the fact that the students all believe that “hazing” is a necessary ritual. When the youngest students arrive every fall — 9th grade students, as young as 13 to 14 years old — the 12th grade students, rather than being helpful and welcoming role models, choose to put the younger students through a “froshing,” meaning the younger students are subjected to initiation in the form of verbal and physical abuse. Which, at that age, is basically bullying hell. Rumors of torment, of having bleach or urine thrown at them, are rampant.
This week, one of the bullies went too far — at least, in the eyes of the school administration. Grade 12 student Mykal Baytaluk was driving a car with other students inside, all of whom were tossing eggs at a 9th grader. During the incident, Baytaluk also hit the younger student’s bicycle with his car, saying the younger student was “swerving,” presumably in an adrenaline-fuelled bid to escape his pursuers.
An adult witnessed the incident and reported it to school authorities. As a result, Mykal was expelled from Nepean High for the duration of the fall term and transferred to an alternate school for troubled students. Two other students in the car with Mykal were suspended from school for ten days. Mykal was also charged by the Ottawa police for failing to report an accident (a traffic violation, not a criminal charge.)
After Mykal’s punishment was meted out, did his fellow students reflect on the gravity of their actions, of the danger of chasing someone on a bicycle with a car, of the serious trauma bullying creates for the younger bullied child? No. Quite the opposite. They protested Mykal’s expulsion, calling it “unfair,” that 12th graders always “haze” 9th graders, that they were hazed themselves four years ago, and saying that if Mykal was expelled, they all should be expelled.
While I don’t necessarily disagree with the suggestion that all the bullies get expelled (because I have little patience for those who find picking on those smaller and weaker than them “fun”), a better option would be to put the excess energy these students obviously have to good use, such as doing community work cleaning up the eggs they threw, repairing the bicycles (and likely much more other property) they’ve damaged, and generally learning that kindness and tolerance is their responsibility. Perhaps nobody stood up for these students when they were bullied as freshmen. Now the bullied have become the bullies. It’s time to end the cycle.
Photo Credit: Phillippe Put on Flickr.