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Anti-bullying plan includes whistle-blowing phone app

A new provincial anti-bullying strategy promises more training to improve the climate in schools and a new smartphone app that aims to make it easier for students to anonymously report tormenters.

Premier Christy Clark unveiled the plan in Surrey Friday, pledging $2 million for the new initiatives she said will bring a coordinated approach to the issue in all school districts.

She said the focus is on providing better tools to help teachers recognize bullying and deal with conflicts appropriately.

"We're not focusing on the hammer legislative approach," Clark said. "You can't make a law that gets rid of bullying."

The plan mandates dedicated safe school coordinators in every district and calls for at least one professional development day per year to be devoted to anti-bullying, although that depends on talks with the B.C. Teachers Federation.

Anti-bullying training will focus on elementary schools initially, while threat and risk assessment training will be geared to middle and secondary schools.

The strategy is dubbed ERASE – Expect Respect And a Safe Education.

But Floyd Van Beek, a Grade 12 student at South Delta Secondary School, said it could have gone farther to battle homophobic bullying in schools, noting there is no specific training module set out for that issue.

"It's a step in the right direction," he said.

Grade 10 student Rachel Garrett, who is with Van Beek on the SDSS Alliance club that fights homophobia in the school, agreed and praised the plan for a phone app.

"A lot of kids aren't quite confident enough to put their name forward," Garrett said. "If they have an anonymous way to do that it's going to be a lot easier."

Clark said gay and lesbian students are more likely to be bullied and commit suicide, but added "bullying is bullying and it shouldn't happen to any child for any reason."

The plan also requires all districts to have have stronger codes of conduct that bar discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation and other criteria in line with the Human Rights Act.

Education Minister George Abbott said a quarter of school districts have conduct codes that specifically refer to sexual orientation.

Others, he said, believe it's important not to elevate one type of bullying over another, adding the province isn't telling them what to do, provided all the discrimination criteria are covered.

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