School’s response to Dolly tragedy: ‘Deeply saddened’
A QUEENSLAND boarding school once attended by Amy Jayne Everett - known as Dolly - has responded to claims it failed in its duty of care to protect the 14-year-old from being bullied before she took her own life.
The young teen, who lived on a remote cattle station in the Northern Territory and went to Scots PGC College in Warwick, QLD, was relentlessly bullied by other students in the lead up to her death, in January this year.
In a heartbreaking interview with A Current Affair, her devastated parents Tick and Kate Everett last night accused the school of gross failings.
Mrs Everett said her daughter was bullied from her first term and from the age of 12 to 14 she suffered physical, mental and online abuse by other students.
Throughout it all, her parents say they kept up a constant dialogue with the school, but Dolly was branded a liar, considered a troublemaker, and even suspended when she "decked" one of her tormentors - a boy who repeatedly pushed her over.
In November last year, Dolly wrote a heartbreaking email to her mother about how she handled being confronted by a bunch of students, one of whom told her she should kill herself.
A few months later, her parents found her dead body half an hour after she had gone to bed.
"I actually just lay with her for hours," Mrs Everett told the Nine Network. "Cuddled up with her for hours and just, I just made a promise to her that this wouldn't be in vain ... that I was so, so sorry that I hadn't made better decisions."
Ms Everett claimed the school didn't appear to have any processes in place to deal with bullying while her daughter was being subjected to it.
She said some schools were doing a great job at protecting students, while others were doing very little, and that schoolchildren shouldn't be at the mercy of disparate standards.
'THE SCHOOL FAILED IN ITS DUTY OF CARE'
Social media platforms were today inundated with comments from users who accused the school of failing in its duty of care by not doing enough to stop the bullying Dolly was enduring.
"Dolly was sent to a private boarding school, her family were paying a school to take care of their daughter," one person wrote on Facebook.
"Everyone - teachers, dorm mistresses, sports coaches, chaplains, even the school medical staff - are there to educate and nurture the students.
"The school and the bullies should be held accountable," a second person posted.
Another wrote: "The school failed in their duty of care, they were negligent, they need to be dragged over the coals so this sort of thing doesn't happen again."
Hundreds of posts with similar sentiments lit up Facebook after the program aired.
The Australian reported that Scots PGC College principal Kyle Thompson was understood to be spending time with upset students today, following revelations about Dolly's troubles at the Warwick school before she took her own life.
One staff member told the newspaper: "Today's priority for us is looking after a lot of upset kids … There are a lot of kids here we need to take care of."
In a statement issued to news.com.au today, Mr Thompson said staff and students were "deeply saddened", by Dolly's death.
"Our thoughts continue to be with Dolly's family, friends and all those impacted by this tragic loss. Dolly's passing has affected our community deeply," the statement read.
"During this time, we continue to focus on the welfare of our entire community and in particular, ensuring our students are provided with care and support.
"In addition to providing ongoing access to professional support services, we continue to follow guidelines established by leading authorities and mental health experts, such as Mindframe, Headspace and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, as to how we communicate with our community during this time.
"We are conscious of the challenges and possible ongoing impact on other young people and families in regards to commenting on suicide.
"As the matter is also the subject of a Northern Territory Police investigation we must respect this process and therefore we are unable to make any further comment."
'PARENTS ARE DEFENSIVE'
Several teachers who spoke to news.com.au about preventing bullying in schools said it was a near impossible task to manage.
One QLD primary school teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told news.com.au that it was difficult to prevent bullying in schools because parents "are not open to a conversation about it when the bully is their kid".
"We aren't trying to blame, just fix it, but the parents [of bullies] are defensive," she said.
"Parents generally blame other children.
"My message to parents is 'get involved in your kids' lives'. Don't drop them off at 6am and pick them up at 6pm and expect the world to fix their problems."
Independent Education Union branch secretary Terry Burke told news.com.au the "death of a child in these circumstances was very distressing and as a community we have we must all tackle the issue of bullying".
"The fundamental responsibility to manage and prevent bullying lies with the school authority - governing board in this instance - to establish appropriate policy and thence for the principal to ensure that the policy is enacted," Mr Burke said.
"In regard to school policy of this nature, the staff have a responsibility to act within [the] policy under the direction of the principal."
Mr Burke said "real and significant interventions" need to be implemented "as bullying is endemic in the community and cyberbullying means there is no respite".
"A school community must first recognise and own that bullying exists in its community and then make it clear in visible action and intervention that it is not tolerated and a non-bullying culture is established and reinforced with specific educational programs," he said.
"Individuals also need to have clear lines of support - specific staff that they can go to and those staff are well trained and well able and knowledgeable to provide the student with assistance and support."
While any future changes will come too late for Dolly, it's something that her parents want implemented for bullied students who still have a chance of being helped.
The Everetts are in the final stages of setting up a new charity, Dolly's Dream, four months after their daughter took her life on the family's remote NT property.
The foundation will pursue a national approach to bullying and cybersafety in schools and urge those across Australia to adopt a national "blue heart" rating system that will reflect the strength of prevention and response strategies.
"Had we known what we know now, Dolly would still be alive," Ms Everett said.
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