When Anti-bullying Programs Fail

Last week, Keila Penner was removed from Maple Grove Elementary School in Lachine Quebec for causing a disturbance. Her crime was not wearing a Montreal Canadiens jersey. The details are not difficult to find.

The school normally has  a dress code that is itemized on their website

  • A mandatory navy blue cardigan which has the Maple Grove logo.
  • Plain white or grey t-shirt, turtle neck, shirt or blouse
  • Solid Navy blue pants (or shorts when the weather is warm), skirt or tunic.
  • No jeans.
  • No logos on clothing other than the Maple Grove logo.
  • Maple Grove is a “HAT FREE ZONE” inside the building. Hats must be removed before entering.

As playoff fever heated up in the city, the school made a one day exception to the dress code

Les Canadiens


and told the students they could wear a hockey jersey as a show of support for their team. What no one appeared to consider was that not everyone would be a Canadiens’ fan. Ms Penner was cheering on the Ottawa Senators, the Canadiens on-ice rivals, and wore the other red shirt.

The result was a somewhat less than enthusiastic reaction from many of the other students, and besides the normal team rivalry comments she felt she was bullied by a number of her schoolmates.

As you would expect the administration rushed to her side and condemned the others for their uncharitable actions.

Not quite. She was given the option of changing her jersey or going home. Tough kid that she is, she stuck to her guns and hew father came and picked her up. In a happy ending, the owner of the Senators heard about the story and invited her to the next game as a VIP guest, and she watched her team win the series.

It’s a happy ending for her, but the question in my mind is whether or not the school has learned anything. Maple Grove has an anti-bullying plan available on their website.

 Goal: To prevent and stop all forms of bullying and violence targeting a student, a teacher or any other staff member.
Bullying: refers to any repeated in direct or indirect behavior, comment, act, or gesture, whether deliberate or not, including in cyberspace, which occurs in a context where there is a power imbalance between the persons concerned and which causes distress and injures, hurts, oppresses, intimidates or ostracizes.
Violence: refers to any intentional demonstration of verbal, written, physical, psychological or sexual force which causes distress and injures, hurts, or oppresses a person by attacking their psychological or physical integrity or well-being, or their rights or property.
Conflict: refers to a clash or disagreement based on principles, opinions or interests between  two or more people.

If the treatment of Ms Penner was severe enough for the administration to get involved, it would have fallen into the definition of bullying. Instead of stepping in and declaring to the student body that such actions would not be tolerated, they removed the target, effectively telling the students that the administration would support the majority and send the victim home.

There is an incredible amount of research that shows the long term negative effects of bullying and we have some to expect that schools, where young people spend much of their youth, would attempt to mitigate these negative effects. In this particular case, the end result was a definite win for the student who stood her ground. However, this outcome could not have been anticipated by the administration.

In my experience with schools, bullying of students is allowed if the bullies are faculty or have the support of faculty. Any school that wants to take a serious stance against the intimidation of students, needs to take a hard look in the mirror.

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2 Responses to When Anti-bullying Programs Fail

  1. Lance says:

    It’s clear you are not a Habs fan. If you were you would know that hockey takes priority over everything else.


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