Covid-19 and School Bullying
The other day one of our parents told us a heartbreaking story that we felt we needed to address to all our parents and students. Jimmy (not his real name) is a sweet little boy of Asian heritage. Jimmy loves playing the sax and going to school. Because of COVID, Jimmy’s parents wanted their children to have a home with a larger yard and more space.So, they bought a larger house and Jimmy’s family moved to a new suburb. Jimmy was excited about going to a new school and making friends. Until the day he was picked upon.
The many different races who call Australia home have experienced some form of racial discrimination in the past, but the pandemic has seen an increase in discrimination against Australian-Asians and Asians living in Australia. Most of us have read about the Chinese doctor in Melbourne who was subjected to a racial slur while waiting for her takeout. Or the two female university students who were attacked in downtown Melbourne. Closer to home, the Chinese woman who was spat on in a street in Sydney is upsetting.
Racist bullying in any form is intolerable and parents, teachers, and community must call it out.
What is bullying?
Bullying is not an isolated incident. It is a pattern of behaviour. It has three characteristics: intent, repetition, and power. The bully intends to cause pain either physically or through hurtful words or behaviour. He or she does so repeatedly because they feel a sense of power and control over their victims.
Children who bully come from a perceived (not necessary, real) higher social status or a position of power, for example, children who are bigger, stronger, or perceived to be popular. The most vulnerable children are the ones who will experience a higher degree of bullying. These can include children from marginalised communities, children from lower-income families, children with different gender identities, migrant children, or refugee children.
What is racist bullying?
Racism can take many forms. It is a manifestation of an unconscious bias or prejudice against another race. It perpetuates power and inequalities from one race towards another because of the false belief that one race or ethnicity is superior to others. The bully is the problem.
Racist bullying in schools
According to schoolgovernance.net.au, four in ten children (40%) from non-Anglo or European heritage, from Year 2 to Year 9, experienced some form of racial discrimination from their peers.
Victims of racist bullying are intimidated, mocked, teased, vilified, or shamed for:
- the way they speak.
- the way they dress.
- the food they eat.
- their background and cultural practices.
- their religion.
Racist bullying can take many forms including:
- verbal abuse.
- physical abuse.
- derogatory remarks.
- culture censure (forcing an individual to conform to western practices)
- cultural bias (for example, showing preference to one race while excluding the other)
- social exclusion.
The bully or bullies can be students, teachers, school administrators and even other parents.
Australian schools have strategies in place to deal with racist bullying. Some have made additional planning for COVID-related bullying against specific cultures. If you suspect your child is being bullied, you must report it to the school.
Parents need to know that racist bullying at school can happen during school or outside school hours (via mobile phones, email, and social media). Online activities that result in offensive comments or racist attacks on a student is not tolerated in Australia. It is a form of bullying.
Here are some important resources for parents:
- eSafety Commissioner website has important information in several languages about cyberbullying including cyber racism, online safety.
- Online safety is a guide on how to keep your child safe online. It is written in several languages. You can order this guide by calling 1800 880 176 or via email from firstname.lastname@example.org. These resources are free.
- Information on how to deal with online hate speeches is available via Remove hate from the debate and Racism No Way.
If your child is a victim of bullying, you must report it to the school.
The long-term impacts of racist bullying
A 2014 Australian study reported some damaging facts about racist bullying in schools:
- One-third of students have direct experience of racial bullying at least once a month.
- A fifth of students experienced racial bullying once a day. The most common was being told they ‘do not belong in Australia’.
- Two-thirds of students in our schools have witnessed a student being called names because of their race.
The impacts of racial bullying are far-reaching. It affects not just the victim but his or her family, other students who may have witnessed the bullying, his teachers, the community, and the school culture.
Children who are bullied suffer from long-term psychological problems that can affect their development and learning. Bullying can impact the child’s:
- sense of belonging to the school community.
- physical, mental, and emotional health.
- a sense of security.
- school attendance and participation.
- academic performance.
Symptoms of bullying
Not every child can come forward and tell their parents or teachers that he or she was bullied. In some cases, the child is so ashamed of what has happened that they will try to conceal it from others.
Any change in normal behaviour whether it’s in school or at home could be a warning sign that your child is a victim of bullying.
What to look out for:
Warning signs in school
- aggression and unreasonable behaviour
- starting fights
- unexplained outbursts towards teachers or classmates
- unexplained cuts, scratches and bruises particularly those that appear after school
- missing or damaged clothing or belongings
- failing school grades
- being inattentive in class
- being isolated
- appearing insecure or frightened
Warning signs at home
- trouble sleeping
- trouble getting out of bed on school days
- refusal to go to school
- unexplained crying
- frequent tantrums and outburst
- signs of fear when approaching school
- mood swings
- imagined illnesses on school days
- unexplained cuts, bruises, scratches
- unusually quiet behaviour
- missing or damaged belongings or clothing after school
- unusual requests for pocket money
- showing an unwillingness to use their mobile phones and other online mediums
- increased questioning about a topic (In Jimmy’s case, he kept asking his parents about China and the virus).
It is important to note that not all changes in behaviours are the result of bullying. Some changes may be a result of other underlying conditions like depression or substance abuse and may require a different response. The parent must seek the help of the school and health professionals for any unusual behavioural changes in their child.
What to do about racial bullying
NSW Schools have an Anti-Racism Policy that promotes equity and inclusion. Schools have an Anti-Racist Contact Officer you can contact if you suspect your child is the victim of a racially motivated attack. The Anti-Racist Contact Officer works closely with the Principal to lead anti-racism education and can give you advice on how to lodge a formal complaint.
Information on the duties of the Anti-Racist Contact Officer is available in multiple languages by clicking on this link.
How to talk to your child about bullying
If you suspect your child is the victim of bullying, you must speak to him or her about it. Speak to them openly and calmly. Do not interrupt them or lose your temper. Give them the space to express what they are feeling and to describe to you what has happened. Focus on them being heard instead of trying to find the cause for the bullying or to solve the problem. Be sure to take notes for the school to investigate. Most importantly, tell them you love them and that you believe them, and it is not their fault. Tell them you will do all you can to find help.
How to report bullying to the school
- Make an appointment with your child’s teacher, the Anti-Racist Contact Officer, Year Level Coordinator or Student Wellbeing Coordinator/Primary Welfare Officer. You can also ask to talk to the Assistant Principal of the School.
- Ask for a professional interpreter if English is not your first language.
- Bring a support person to the meeting.
- Share details of the incident/s your child has experienced and the impact of the bullying on your child.
- Describe the incidents and ask for the school’s commitment to ensure that the bullying stops.
- Agree on a timeframe for the school to respond to the bullying.
- You will have to give the school time to investigate and to make the necessary reports.
- Help your child overcome what has happened to him by her. This may involve his or her teachers, a member of the School’s Wellbeing team.
- Talk to the school even if your child does not want you to – racist bullying is a serious offence, and the school will want to support you and your child to feel safe and welcome.
- Seek support for yourself if you need it. Parentline is a phone service for parents and carers of children from birth to 18 years old. It offers confidential counselling and support to parents. They can be contacted on 1300 1300 52.
If the bullying does not stop, speak to the Principal. If you are not satisfied with the school’s response, contact your closest regional office, and ask to speak to the Community Liaison Officer in your area. They will help you register your complaint and explain how the Department will consider it. Allow time for them to investigate and to speak to the school and anyone else involved. A complaint can take time to be resolved so be patient.
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT
Top Kidz would like to inform all parents and students that the academy does not tolerate the use of the terms ‘Chinese virus’ or ‘China virus’ or ‘Wuhan virus’ or ‘kungflu’ in our premises. It is true the virus did originate from Wuhan in China but identifying a disease by its place of origin is wrong because it promotes discrimination and stigmatisation. We encourage all parents and community members to join us in raising this awareness.
This is a crucial time for our community to get together and to support one another through the crisis. Building blame into a name undermines the values we uphold as Australians and as Global citizens.