A Hunting Hills High School student wants her school to start taking the rampant use of homophobic and racist slurs and assaults by students seriously.
“The second they see a student running in the hallway they are happy to call that out.” said Grade 11 student Emma Achtemichuk. “But if they hear a student being called a slur, they don’t call it out, and let it happen.”
Achtemichuk said she has often been called homophobic slurs in the hallway through the years, most recently about two weeks ago by a group of boys who taunted her and a friend.
A statement from Red Deer Public Schools and Hunting Hills stated they have demonstrated in many ways that they support the LGBTQ+ community, plus other diverse individuals that make up the school and the broader community. The administration and staff are deeply committed and take pride in their progress and successes in creating a welcoming and caring school community. These matters are taken seriously by both the school and division.
The 16-year-old student said she has also had water and juiced dumped on her, and bottles and sharp objects thrown at her.
She said the abuse has actually gotten worse since people starting speaking out during the pandemic, like Black Lives Matter supporters.
The student said those who don’t participate in the name-calling at school often just stand by and watch and don’t do anything about it. Walls inside and outside the school have sometimes been defaced with racist graffiti, like swastikas or the N-word, and it can take some time before it’s removed.
“Inside it’s usually in the washrooms and it’s there most of the time.”
She said it was unfortunate that earlier this year the school board decided to support a district-wide Diversity Week instead of a Pride Week.
“The school definitely needs to be supporting diversity, but they should mention certain groups and the hardships they go through. Not every group goes through the same things.
“They never really stood up for the (LGBTQ) community.”
She said sometimes a student is required to apologize, but it can be obvious the student doesn’t mean it.
Achtemichuk said she has spoken out about problems at the school since Grade 10, but has increased her efforts in recent months and more people are noticing. Some students, and a few teachers have also started to call out the abuse.
The teenager said she recently spoke to the vice-principal Jim Bussard about the bullying but was not satisfied with the results, and then met with a liaison to the superintendent at Red Deer Public Schools last week.
A statement from Red Deer Public Schools and Hunting Hills said the school was aware of some, but not all of the concerns raised by the student. These are matters which both the school and division take seriously, and are addressing, indicated the statement.
“I know the staff, students and many of the families of students who attend Hunting Hills. I believe the vast majority are caring and compassionate individuals,” said the high school’s principal Darwin Roscoe.
“I recognize that events sometimes occur which may be deeply hurtful to an individual. Many times these events are compounded through misunderstandings. However, at times serious events occur which require administrative intervention.”
The statement read that vice-principals at the school assess situations, and address individual students by prioritizing education and changing behaviours when dealing with discipline matters. If those strategies do not result in changed behaviour, progressive discipline interventions occur. The matters are addressed between the student, parents and administration. The process remains private.
“If students continue to have concerns, matters are to be addressed with the principal. That was not the case here. The student did not meet with the principal to resolve the issues before going to the media. Since then, the school and the division have connected with both the student and parent. The division is working towards establishing a positive and constructive direction moving forward.”
Roscoe said he was deeply concerned. The school continues to focus on building a safe and caring culture, but regrettably that does not hold true for everyone in the building, and resolving such troubling issues is not easy.
“These events are often significantly influenced by peers and social media. As a school, we have a collective responsibility to better these attitudes and beliefs. We continue to do this work every day,” Roscoe said.
Achtemichuk and her mom Lisa met with the principal on Friday, and Lisa is now waiting to see what happens at the school as a result of that meeting.
Lisa said bullying is not a new problem and staff are well aware that it happens, and see it happen.
She said there should be a consistent and immediate reaction and response by staff and administration to bullying in the classrooms and in the hallways. Instead, the perpetrators are not punished so the culture of bullying in the school persists.
Lisa said if her daughter’s concerns had been taken more seriously she wouldn’t have gone to the media, or taken to social media.