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OAKVILLE – When Lauren Holly’s son was being bullied and she wasn’t getting any action from her son’s Halton elementary school, the fiery actress took to Twitter.
“Hey, @HaltonDSB,” she tweeted a few weeks ago. “If your teachers continue to ignore me it’s gonna be #BOOMredhaireverywhere #nomore !! Bullies Beware.”
Not long after, following a barrage of supportive tweets from her fans, Halton District School Board superintendent of education Stuart Miller contacted her and the bullying was finally addressed.
But what happens if you’re not a famous actress, with credits including Dumb and Dumber, NCIS, and her current TV series, Motive? It was a question she wondered as well, tweeting, “I’m so lucky, I have a big voice. What about the parents who don’t? How frustrated they must feel. Or the worst — a victim not heard.”
And so even though her son’s problem was resolved, Holly wants to speak out for those who are still battling to be heard.
It’s a rainy afternoon and she has her three adorable sons in tow — ages 9, 10 and 12 — on an errand-filled day. Over coffee, the red-headed star — once briefly married to Jim Carrey — comes across as smart and down-to-earth as she worries about the growing bullying problem in our schools.
The transplanted American remembers all too well being bullied herself as a middle school kid in upstate New York. “It was a terrible time. I remember they would stick me with pins in the hallway between classes. Kids can be so cruel,” she recalled. “The anxiety that I felt — I just don’t want any kid to feel like that.”
The single mom moved to Canada five years ago because she thought it was a better place to raise her children. Recently she noticed a change in her son’s behaviour — she is purposely vague about which of her kids so as not to single him out — and school staff confirmed it as well. After sitting him down, he finally opened up about what was going on: he’d witnessed a school fight a few months before and now he was being tormented by a “club” of several boys who not only had taken his hat, and ripped his backpack, but repeatedly threatened to beat him up. And to show they were serious, they’d slammed him into the lockers, leaving an ugly bruise on his back.
“He was embarrassed that he couldn’t handle it,” Holly says. “I got very upset and I called the school and I said, ‘You have a zero tolerance policy? Well, I have a zero tolerance policy. Let’s see if you take care of it.’”
The vice-principal told her to be patient while they looked into it. In the meantime, the bullies were allowed to go off on a school trip and when they returned, the threats started anew. Angry that nothing had changed, Holly pulled her son out of school and launched her Twitter campaign. “You’re not doing anything about it? Then I’m going out into the world and bang my drum.”
The response astounded her. “The replies to this were making me cry,” she says. “There are so many people who have suffered from this. It’s just horrible.”
The superintendent contacted her, a meeting was arranged with all the boys involved and her son left it feeling better, especially because the bullies will be moving on to a different school next year.
But why did it take a Twitter campaign to get results? “As a board, we take bullying seriously,” insisted Miller. “Parents think actions will come in the form of discipline or consequences as soon as the allegations are brought forward but what is undertaken is an investigation.”
For Holly, this isn’t a vendetta against the Halton board or the staff who ignored her concerns. “I just feel like I understand people who are going through this. Parents don’t know where to turn,” she says as she gathers up her kids to continue their day.
“It doesn’t matter that my son’s issue has been taken care of. I still want to talk to people about this,” she insists. “It’s not just my school district. This is an ongoing problem and I get scared. Coming from the States, Canada’s been fairly lucky but that can change.”
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