School boards need to address growing bullying issue: Singer
By Tony Poland, AdvocateDaily.com Associate Editor
Toronto personal injury lawyer Darryl Singer says his growing file of lawsuits against school boards is proof that not enough is being done to address racism and bullying.
“It’s a huge problem with how boards implement their safe-school policy,” says Singer, who heads the Commercial and Civil Litigation Practice Group with Diamond & Diamond Lawyers LLP. “They don’t want to implement it until they are forced.”
He tells AdvocateDaily.com that he has “dozens of claims” he is either preparing or has filed against seven school boards within the Greater Toronto Area, or just outside it, and he expects to add more in the near future.
The claims still have to be proven in court.
“I’m running a bunch of files that are very similar. They’re not all racism related, but they’re certainly all bullying related,” he says. “I have received about a dozen new calls very recently.”
Singer says the cases he’s seeing “are basically the same, whether the racism takes the form of sexist bullying or racist bullying or just bullying in general.”
“They all follow the same trajectory. The victim and or the victim’s parents report to the school on multiple occasions over a period of months that this is taking place,” he says. “The school typically says ‘We’re sorry there’s nothing we can do.’
“It’s the opposite of monkey see, monkey do,” Singer says. “It’s like the monkey didn’t see, so the monkey does nothing. Basically, the school says the same thing every single time, which is ‘We didn’t see it, we didn’t hear it and, by the way, we spoke to the bully, and the bully said that he didn’t do what you claim, so our hands are tied.’”
Singer is representing one family that filed a $1-million lawsuit alleging administrators failed to act on repeated racial harassment and physical attacks on their child.
According to the statement of claim, the boy was allegedly targeted by older students who made threats that included telling him to “go and kill himself.”
“I don’t think [the board] took it seriously at all,” the mother of the student told the CBC. “Myself and my son felt helpless.”
CBC News reports the lawsuit alleges the board was notified of the incidents on “many occasions” during the current school year, but administrators failed to take appropriate action.
The mother told the CBC that she made repeated requests to have her son transferred to a new school, which were denied until he was finally allowed to relocate in April.
“They were trying to keep him in the school, knowing that this has been going on,” she alleged to the CBC.
Singer says the claim mirrors a $1-million lawsuit he filed on behalf of a 12-year-old black girl who “has allegedly been the target of racist, sexist bullying and harassment, and threats of physical violence” by a white male student.
The lawsuit alleges that “the pain, anxiety, stress, feelings of insecurity, and lack of safety at school made it difficult” for the girl to stay focused. As well, she sustained a possible concussion, “lacerations and contusions, blurry vision in one eye, a loss of concentration and memory, scarring, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder,” the claim alleges.
Singer says he has taken on cases from students who attend middle school and high school, including three plaintiffs from the same high school.
“There’s always a defining event that ends up driving them into my office,” he says. “The bullying often starts out as verbal, with threats of physical violence, and devolves because the school doesn’t act when they’re made aware of it. Ultimately, it results in an altercation where the victim is then physically injured in addition to all the emotional scars they’ve already suffered.”
Singer says he has one case where a young girl was verbally abused, threatened and pushed over the course of almost two school years.
He says he has records of emails complaining about the bullying and documents of “at least a dozen meetings” with school officials.
The abuse escalated until one day the girl was attacked by her bully and a dozen others, Singer says.
“They were basically pushing her down, beating her up, banging her head into the sidewalk and she fights back and gets away,” he says. “When the school got involved, they said she also had to be suspended for a week since she should not have fought back because they have zero tolerance policy on violence. It’s ridiculous — there are no other words. It’s egregious.”
Singer says, in each case, the school board’s defence is basically a boilerplate response.
“It is a very typical sort of insurance company kind of defence, which they deny that they knew this was going on, so therefore, they couldn’t possibly protect the plaintiff,” he says.