He liked his hair again': Pink Shirt Day turns spotlight on school bullying

·3 min read

Pink Shirt Day in support of anti-bullying efforts in schools will be marked Wednesday by schools and community groups across the province.

Ashley Sanipass, a mom from Indian Island First Nation, said her son was being bullied, but praises his school for taking action that led to a positive outcome.

Sanipass said two months ago, her seven-year-old son, Clover, told her a student at school was referring to him as a girl and making fun of him because of his hair.

“My son has long hair past his shoulders,” she said.

The family is Mi'kmaq. Hair is important to many Indigenous people and there are many teachings about it, Sanipass said. “My mother had always talked to me about how my hair was my strength,” she said.

Some Indigenous people follow the practice that you may braid a partner or family member's hair, but you do not touch a stranger’s hair or vice versa, she said, noting she was taught the importance of putting “good intentions” into her hair.

Sanipass, who also wears her hair long, said she was bullied herself as a child, with children at school sometimes twisting it like a doorknob when she wore it up or flicking her braid when she wore it down.

When her son told her about the bullying, Sanipass said she asked him if he wanted to cut his hair. He said no.

So she turned to the school for help to stop the bullying.

Sanipass said she contacted Rexton Elementary School about the incident, speaking to a secretary about how long hair was part of Clover's culture and the ways in which bullying was occurring. Everything was written down, she said, and given in a note to her son’s teacher.

The next day the issue was resolved after the teacher talked with the perpetrator, and made Clover feel his hair was something to be admired and celebrated. The teacher sent a note home letting her know the situation had been dealt with, Sanipass said.

“I noticed a change in Clover right away,” she said. “He said he liked his hair again.”

The Pink Shirt Day initiative began in the Maritimes, but is now held in schools across Canada.

In 2007, at a high school in Cambridge, Nova Scotia, a student was bullied for wearing a pink shirt, said Marie-Michèle Vienneau, recruitment and communication agent for the Francophone Sud school district in a news release. The next day, the student’s classmates arrived at school wearing pink shirts as a show of solidarity.

This week, Francophone South is one of many school boards participating. In a memo sent out this week, the district encouraged everyone at the schools to wear pink on Wednesday, also noting it is just one of many anti-bullying actions. Another initiative, Harmony for Students, which aims to equip staff to better manage bullying and students to assert themselves, halved the self-reported rates of bullying by students between 2017 and 2019.

Anglophone East School District is also encouraging students and staff to wear pink and take a look at the Pink Shirt Day resources on the website, said Stephanie Patterson, director of communications for Anglophone East. She said the district continues to follow Policy 703, the province’s policy for a safe and positive learning and working environment.

Policy 703 is intended to provide inclusive, safe and respectful environments, identifies who is responsible for addressing issues, sets standards of behaviour and discipline and includes the Provincial Student Code of Conduct, said Tara Chislett, a spokesperson for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, adding that work reviewing anti-bullying practices is ongoing.

Sanipass said her son's school will be participating in Pink Shirt Day. Not every bullying c

Clara Pasieka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal