When responding to a parent or caregiver in relation to a bullying incident, involvement of a third party can arise from an identified need or a legal requirement. Legal requirements mandating the principal’s involvement are outlined in a number of regulations, acts and directives. For example, Bill 157, the Keeping Our Kids Safe at School Act, requires all school staff to report to the principal incidents that can lead to suspension or expulsion, such as bullying. (For information about Bill 157, see Keeping Our Kids Safe at School.)
Principals also need to be informed when a student’s wellbeing is at risk, for example, in cases where a student expresses suicidal or violent thoughts or intentions. (For more information about education policy related to this issue, visit the website of the Ministry of Education of Ontario.)
In addition to legally mandated policy requirements, schools and school boards will have their own policies and procedures to guide teachers and other school staff in this area. Some aspects of the responsibility to report a situation to the principal can vary from school to school. As teachers, we need to make sure that we are familiar with these legislative and internal responsibilities and requirements.
Over and above such legal and policy requirements, teachers may choose to involve a third party for a number of reasons. Some parents or caregivers may request the presence of a support person, such as a friend, a family member or a community worker. We ourselves may also identify that they could benefit from such additional support. This may be the case when parents or caregivers seem to have less confidence or to be unsure of themselves (for example, in the case of some marginalized parents or caregivers). In this case, inviting them to bring a support person can be a way of sharing power.
Parents and caregivers who are newcomers may experience language barriers if English is not their first language. In this case, they may want to be accompanied by someone who can interpret.
Sometimes, involving a support person or an advocate from an outside agency or service can be helpful as they may bring a fresh perspective. They may provide input that can generate constructive communication, raising issues or asking questions that teachers, administrators or other school staff may not have thought of, or felt comfortable to address.
Identifying groups and services in the community can also be useful for situations when parents, caregivers or families seem to need additional supports that are specifically adapted to their situation (for example, culturally specific services, services for women, services for adults and young people who are LGBT).
School support staff have an important role to play when students need additional support, either because of the impact of bullying or because they are struggling in some way, perhaps with their identity. Particularly in high school, other professionals such as guidance counsellors, a social worker or other support staff, are more likely to be involved. We may want to include them in a meeting with a parent or caregiver.
Teachers may also feel the need for a third party presence. This need may arise when we have a sense that a situation may become volatile, or when we do not feel entirely safe working with a parent or guardian on our own. It is important to be aware that in some situations, the presence of a third party may increase the tension, depending upon the way it is perceived. We may decide to keep our contact with a parent or caregiver informal at first by meeting with them on our own. If the need arises, if we have difficulty resolving an issue on our own, it may be useful in some cases to invite a resource person whose presence is likely to be perceived as neutral. If tensions escalate, however, it may be both necessary and wise to include an administrator and possibly a union representative.
Guidelines about third party resource people and information about community services are useful elements to include in a school’s bullying policies and procedures.