Lifelong Learning Programme

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Success Stories

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The headmistress negociates with Justice
Lower Secondary School
School bullying
Main actors involved
Ten students (boys) of around 13 years old: the victim and his attackers. The victim’s parents. The headmaster.
When, where and how the story took place

The events took place in a second year class, during the school year 2004-2005.
At first, nine boys wanted to prevent a tenth one to integrate their group, closing their circle, moving away, … Then as the student persisted, the others became more “persuasive”, first with words, then with acts.
The student first suffered oral vexations, then pushing and shoving. Over time, expressions of reject became more persuasive and ended up with the student’s pants pulled down in the classroom, which is located in a less accessible area, “away from prying eyes”. The purpose was to make the student understand his presence was not welcomed in the group of boys.
The facts were known in the middle of March 2005 when the victim’s parents informed a member of the management during a dinner organised at school. Several days earlier, they had noticed that “something was wrong” and their son eventually told them what his classmates had done.
The school notified them that, given the seriousness of the facts, they could press charges.
They went to the nearest police office but they did not feel they received attention. They then talked to acquaintances and pressed charges on the next Monday morning at the Public Prosecutor’s department.
Although the school understood the attitude of the parents in the face of what their child had suffered, they did not expect them to press charges so soon, moreover at such a high level.
The headmaster’s office invited the nine boys’ parents to inform them of the facts and warn them the victim’s parents had lodged a complaint, which implied the attackers would be questioned. The nine students were indeed summoned at the law court. The purpose was to moralise them, to make them realise the seriousness of the facts and the need for reparation.
The headmaster discussed several times with the deputy public prosecutor so that the reparation be undertaken within the school, which was accepted
The sentence was returned in late June 2005: the nine students had to meet every fortnight with their previous class teacher during a whole school quarter. They were brought to think about the impact of their acts and to create a document that would enable the headmaster’s office to be informed of the “high-risk” area and behaviours in the school. They thus set up a survey given to all the students of the school in order to know the “high-risk” areas of the school.
Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond the parties’ control, things could not be carried out until the second quarter of the following year, that is in January 2006.
The “case” can be considered as closed around April 2006, nearly one year after the events.

The reasons why the story can be considered as successful.

• The victim could express his problem and resume normal schooling in the same school for two more years. Then the parents chose to enrol him elsewhere because he was still taking his attackers’ opinion of him badly.
• Being summoned at the court made an impression on the bullies. They realised the seriousness of their acts. They all continued their schooling in the same school.
• The headmaster could set up a real collaboration with legal authorities and obtain that reparation was made within the school.
• Measures were taken to make sure this kind of events does not happen again.

The starting point of the student

• The victim is disturbed. The parents notice a change in the behaviour of their son, who eventually confides in them.
The victim cannot accept that he is kept away from the group of nine boys. He is ready to do anything to be accepted.
This student has always had an integration and acknowledgement problem. He has regularly tried to be accepted by the group of nine boys, even after the events. Without success.
The victim has a twin brother in another class who has never had this kind of problem.
• The bullies did not realise the seriousness of their acts. Their only motivation was to form a group of friends and they barred others from joining them. They did not choose their victim.
Social and economic background of the family involved

Given the social status of the victim’s parents (the father is a professional), they had acquaintances who worked in the legal sector.
The person contacted at the Public Prosecutor’s department might have refused to drop the case out of sympathy for the parents or out of loyalty since they knew each other, especially as the local police did not deem it necessary to go further.
Therefore, things got “carried away”. The Public Prosecutor’s department opened a case that was not justified. It could have as well forwarded the case to the school suggesting collaborating to the determination of the punishment.
Possible explanation of the success

The headmaster’s determination was dominating. She managed the whole case:
• She could set up a real collaboration with legal authorities, which made reparation within the school possible. Without this collaboration, there would only have been summons “to scare” and thus no reparation. The case would have been shelved.
• She carried out the sentence.
• She rearranged the premises. Access to “high-risk” areas has been banned at certain hours.
• She organised, with the help of the PMS centre (health and welfare centre), information sessions on respect, acceptance of differences and devices for attention and support set up in the school (including a “listening space” made up of voluntary teachers).
Since the events, the PMS organises for all first year students, an activity on self-esteem, how to say no, how to defend against racketeering, vexations …
• The class teacher was informed of the facts. She could act as a reference person for the other teachers in order to adopt a common attitude in front of the class and recreate an environment of trust and work.
• During the meetings at the beginning and the end of term, based on the event, the headmaster reminds to the teaching staff its obligations to respect the rule and make it respect.
• The following years, the students involved were not put in the same class.

However, this experience had an impact. All the school actors suffered because of it:
• The victim needed the help of a psychologist to work on his need of acknowledgement by others.
• Since the sanction had to be taken by a legal authority, it took longer than if the matter had been dealt with within the school.
Because of the slowness of the legal procedure, the problem was solved one year after the events were known. It made tensions between the different actors and the victim’s ill-being last longer than needed.
• Because a complaint was registered and the legal apparatus was set in motion, the school could not “handle” the case. Negotiations between the legal authorities were needed.
• The complaint lodged by the parents was excessive, although their suffering in the face of their son’s humiliation is understandable.

Interaction between the different actors involved

There was no interaction between the school actors:
• The victim informed his parents.
• The victim’s parents informed the school and pressed charged directly to the justice.
• The attackers’ parents were informed by the school management. If they disapprove their children’s behaviour, they also found the summon to the justice disproportionate. They considered that the victim also had some responsibility in what happened. But they did not put pressure on his parents to withdraw their complaint.
The interaction took place between the legal authorities, the bullies’ parents (given the children’s young age) and the headmaster.

If the school could have handle the matter differently:
• It would have informed the authors and their parents that the acts they had committed were punishable by law but that the problem would be dealt with internally.
• It would have analysed with the ten children what in everyone’s behaviour led to that situation.
• It would have prompted a meeting between the victim and his attackers without their parents, so that the victim could have told them how much they had hurt him.
• It would have insisted that the authors apologise, which did not happen in the context of questioning by police inspectors who “went all out” to scare the boys.
• Finally, it would have “worked” with the victims on issues related to what happened so that he too draws lessons from what he experienced. Why did he need acknowledgement? Who from? To what extend would he try to achieve it? How to get respected? … Although the victim was followed by a psychologist, did he have the chance to ask himself about the way he interacted with the others?

Transferability potential of the experience

The scale of the case show that:
• Contact with the parents should always be maintained to avoid “getting carried away” (going to justice for instance), with a risk for the school to lose its “grip” on the solution of the problem and the reparation.
• Solving problems internally with the help of specialists is preferable to using justice. It is an extreme decision with potentially negative consequences for all the protagonists.
The reaction delay of the school, listening to the demand, leaving room for emotional aspects help solving the problem and limiting its negative impact.

20 December 2014

Final Partners’ meeting

The fourth partners’ meeting took place in Florence (IT) on 15 December 2014. The meeting had the objective to check the activities carried out since the third meeting of the project and share and assess the in progress results. A special focus has been dedicated to the presentation of the strategies to solve the case scenarios.