It’s been more than a month since Stacey Koehler has been to her high school.
The last day she attended Chilliwack secondary, Stacey says she was bullied so badly that she ended up in the emergency room with symptoms of a concussion. But nobody at the school is willing to admit she was bullied, even hit, by other students. Administration told Stacey and her grandma, Elizabeth Koehler, that they would investigate the incident but so far they’ve not heard anything back.
“I’m still kinda mad about it,” Stacey told the Chilliwack Progress at her kitchen table this week. “They are trying to say I self-inflicted a concussion. The hospital told us that that is medically impossible.”
Stacey, a Grade 11 student, insists she was punched in the head by a classmate while she sat at a computer. The school says she hit herself repeatedly with a badminton racket.
There has been no face-to-face meeting between Stacey and the student she says hit her. And the violence didn’t come out of the blue, Stacey says. It started somewhat back at her middle school, A.D. Rundle.
And then, when Stacey started high school, she was almost immediately given some very bad news.
She has a tumour in a large part of her brain, and has a cancer diagnosis of anaplastic astrocytoma. It’s inoperable and her life expectancy is short, but she did go through chemotherapy and radiation last year.
She lost her hair, but kept going to school as often as she could. All of her recent scans show that the tumour is at bay for now.
Still, the young cancer survivor was teased and bullied for her looks. She was teased for having seizures at school.
“They used to pick on me because I was bald,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “There have been some comments about what I weigh, or what I’m wearing. They call me names, but I’m not allowed to repeat those names.”
The usual response from teachers, she says, is to readjust the classroom and move people around. But that doesn’t help in the hallways, or in classes without desks, such as PE.
“They have tried to force me to forgive them,” Stacey explained. But she wants to see those who have bullied her held accountable for their actions.
More than that, she doesn’t want it to happen again. And because the school won’t deal with it, she said, she’s staying home.
“I want to be at school,” she said. “I miss some of my friends. I want to learn.”
Her grandma refuses to let her go anyway.
“She got really sick, she was vomiting,” her grandma said.
“They took a CT scan, hooked her up to an IV, and said it was a concussion. I will not send her back. This time it’s a concussion, next time they could be pulling her out on a stretcher. This has been going on for quite a while.”
With only a few weeks of class time left in the school year, it’s not looking likely that Stacey will get her credits from this semester. They are considering other options for her to catch up, and went to the Education Centre to see if she could enrol there. But that requires a referral, and that hasn’t come yet.
But according to the Chilliwack School District’s behaviour policies for students, it isn’t Stacey who should be sitting at home, or looking for new schooling options.
In situations like Stacey’s, the student who misbehaved should be referred to the District Behaviour Committee. From there, options for punishment and restorative justice include suspension, offers of counselling, the alternate suspension program at the YMCA, referral to outside agencies, an alternative education setting inside or outside the school district, expulsion for students older than age 16, or referral to student services.
The School District can’t speak to individual cases or on students’ private information to confirm or deny Stacey’s story. But the family’s next move is a telling one. They are leaving town and moving to Alberta over the summer, for a fresh start.
Kids Help Phone: Call 1-800-668-6868, text CONNECT to 686868, or live chat online at www.kidshelpphone.ca.
Emergency: 911 or 1-877-820-7444 for the Fraser Health Crisis Line, or 1-800-784-2433.
Youth in BC Distress Line: 24-hour distress line staffed by counsellors and trained volunteers, 1-866-661-3311.
Mental Health Support: 310-6789 for emotional support, information and resources specific to mental health