The family of nine-year-old Amal Alshteiwi, who committed suicide after allegedly being bullied at school, is seen mourning her lose in their northeast Calgary home. Monday, April 22, 2019. Brendan Miller/Postmedia
Weeks after nine-year-old Amal Alshteiwi committed suicide after allegedly being bullied at school, CBE officials are refusing to discuss the case but insist their anti-harassment protocols are working.
That was vehemently rejected Monday by the girl’s parents, Syrians who fled that country’s war and came to Canada three years ago.
The mother and father say the CBE is still failing to properly address their concerns after the girl’s mother, Nasra Abdulrahman, said she was aggressively rebuffed three times while complaining about bullying at the girl’s school.
“Maybe what he says applies to other schools but not the school Amal was in,” said the girl’s father, Aref Alshteiwi, referring to comments made Monday by CBE chief superintendent Christopher Usih.
“She was bullied by classmates and witnesses are afraid to come forward.”
Family members say they found the lifeless body of Amal at their home on March 6 following two months of escalating bullying.
They said the taunting wasn’t racially motivated — at least one of her tormentors spoke Arabic — but picked on the girl’s looks.
On Monday, the CBE’s Usih expressed condolences for Amal’s family but said privacy prevented him from discussing specifics of the case.
“This is a terrible tragedy for this family, for any family — our hearts are broken,” he said, adding he met with the grieving family last week.
“You can appreciate the sensitivity of this matter, and out of respect of the family’s privacy I’m afraid I can’t speak to this.”
He said the CBE has a system of counselling and protocols that encourage students to report bullying to teachers and others.
If parents aren’t satisfied with how cases are being handled by teachers, the matter goes to school principals and, if need be, an area director, he said.
When asked if Amal’s suicide points to a failure in that system, Usih repeatedly stated the CBE sees “student safety as its top priority.”
Processes to deal with bullying, which includes the use of translators, are well established and access to them is clearly communicated in schools, he said.
“I’m confident it works for our students . . . I can assure you the processes we have in place meet the test,” he said.
Even so, he said the girl’s death demands educators “redouble our efforts to ensure that Amal and the tragedy that befell this young lady, we hope and pray never happens again.”
Usih said he didn’t have statistics on how many of the board’s students commit suicide, and wouldn’t provide those numbers even if he had them.
Amal’s parents said the last thing they want is for privacy concerns to prevent full disclosure of what happened to their daughter.
“I want them to talk about it — some people are blaming my husband for her death,” said Abdulrahman.
She said the more she raised the alarm of what was happening to Amal, the more strongly her teacher rebuffed them and pressured their daughter.
No help came when she approached a translator employed by the board for assistance, added the mom.
The girl’s father demanded the CBE take concerted action.
“We want the teacher to be dismissed and bullies to be held responsible,” he said through an Arabic translator.
“We live in a country of laws and we want to see justice for our daughter.”
Attempts to have the CBE deal with serious issues facing newcomers to Canada have fallen on deaf ears, said Sam Nammoura, co-founder of the Calgary Immigrant Support Society, who has known Amal’s family since their arrival.
“I’ve been trying for two years to reach out to the CBE but nobody wants to talk or listen to us,” he said.
But a tearful Abdulrahman said her daughter did find a caring teacher after she changed schools just days before her death.
“She found love and support from her new teacher, her teacher gave her a tattoo on her hand,” she said.
But it was too late, said the mom, who added her daughter’s tormentors told the girl she’d be bullied no matter what school she attended.
“She was so afraid and intimidated from what happened before,” she said.
A family physician who said one of her children had been bullied at a CBE school said she’s fed up with dealing with young patients who’ve been tormented by classmates.
“I’m tired of treating pediatric (patients) with mental-health problems due to bullying, and the department of education can do more,” said Dr. Unati Makiwane, who attended Monday’s CBE news conference.
on Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn