by Doug Patterson

The recent case of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl being brutally assaulted and described as ‘bullying’ highlights a problem that has existed in our high schools for years. Calls for the offenders to be expelled only exacerbate the acceptance of a culture that allows teenage criminals to escape legal consequences for their actions.

It also, by default, presents school principals the power to be both judge and jury over offenders that should be answerable to the courts.

“Whoa – what’s he on about?” you are thinking. 

Well, when assault is treated as a social misdemeanor like bullying, surely the problem is evident. Bullying can reasonably be handled in house, but where physical or psychological damage are a result, then a crime has been committed and needs to be judged in the criminal system.

However, I suspect that most people would be shocked at the crimes that are regularly committed in high schools and are handled in house – completely outside the proper legal system. With over 20 years of experience teaching in high schools, I can clearly recall decisions that disturbed me – some undoubtedly minor but others potentially quite serious.

Let me share some of them.

– A student always rides his bike to school without wearing a helmet. No big deal but by accepting his behaviour you are teaching that road rules don’t really apply to him.

– A senior student was caught selling cigarettes to a junior student. Again, not a big deal perhaps but he is breaking the law and a three-day suspension doesn’t address this.

– Another student caught selling marijuana actually just got a five-day suspension. Really!

– A 17-year-old boy caught having sex with a 15-year-girl on gym mats received a warning and counselling despite potential issues of rape and underage sex not been legally investigated.

– A student patrolling the school perimeter with a rifle threatening to shoot a teacher who had disciplined him received counselling. 

– A senior student came to class late with severe bruising on her face. As her teacher, I was legally required to report the fact that she might have suffered from physical domestic abuse. I was told the school was aware of the problem and had dealt with it. I found this particularly disturbing as it became obvious that the school, although obliged to report this to the police, had in fact dealt with it in house.

The problem with treating school crime as a minor misdemeanor has two direct consequences. School principals, by default, assume power and authority to arbitrate over crimes that they really don’t have the authority to do and are not trained to exercise. However, more tragically, young teens are taught that breaking the law is not such a big deal. 

It is no wonder that so many young adults are caught breaking traffic rules, drug laws and assault. This is what we have taught them.

Crime is crime and must be treated as that, wherever it is committed.  

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