• Home Education Funding Alberta

Refugee family says school ignored bullying that caused daughter, 9, to take own life

Updated: Jan 13

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Sarah Rieger·CBC News·Posted: Apr 23, 2019 11:41 AM MT | Last Updated: April 23, 2019

PHOTO: Amal Alshteiwi, 9, died by suicide after months of bullying, her mother says.(Submitted)

Parents say they just want 'justice' for their little girl.

Parents of a nine-year-old girl who took her own life say the Calgary school system failed their daughter by ignoring how severely she was being bullied by classmates.

"I told them there is something bothering my kid, people are mocking her, intimidating her, and bullying her, but nobody was really listening to me," said Nasra Abdulrahman, the girl's mother, speaking through an Arabic interpreter.

Amal Alshteiwi took her own life after her mother says bullying at her northeast school went unchecked for months.

Friends of the family say that could be because concerns raised with the school were lost in translation, and

much of the bullying was done in Arabic, so went unnoticed by English-speaking staff.

Why are the students speaking Arabic in a Public School? Shouldn't they be speaking either English or French- Canada's official languages? There should be a translator present or they should be refrained from speaking in a language other than French or English. There are multiple grants available to learn either English or French which is up to the school board to administer, which are costing us taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars every year. Where are the results of all of this funding? Nevertheless, even if the students could speak both languages, speaking in a native tongue could indicate something secretive or dangerous, which in this case costed a child's life.

"When I told her [teacher] my daughter is not really feeling well, something is wrong with my daughter … [the] teacher said maybe she has some problems at home but not here at the school," Abdulrahman said.

She said instead of supporting her daughter, the teacher applied more pressure on the girl and that bullying ramped up in the two weeks before her death.

Amal's brother Abedalla, who is in Grade 5, said the bullies targeted his sister's looks and the fact that she wore the hijab.

She left behind five brothers and sisters, as well as her mother and father. The family came to Alberta three years ago as refugees after fleeing war-torn Syria.

The Calgary Board of Education has said an investigation following Amal's death found no evidence of bullying, and on Sunday the board's chief superintendent would not say if the CBE has plans to change any policies or launch an internal investigation following Amal's death.

I'm tired of treating pediatrics with mental health issues because of bullying.- Unati Makiwane, Calgary doctor

Clearly bullying is a real problem in schools if a doctor says they are sick of treating patients "with mental health issues because of bullying." Instead of more funding in Public Schools for mental health and anti-bullying regulations, the government should be giving more funding to Home Education, to encourage students to learn from home where it is safe from mental and physical abuse from peers.

"This is a terrible tragedy, for this family, for any family, and our hearts are breaking," said chief superintendent Christopher Usih.

"We are taking this matter extremely seriously."

Dr. Unati Makiwane, a family physician in Calgary, was one of those in attendance at the superintendent's media availability.

"Mostly I came because I'm tired of treating pediatrics with mental health issues because of bullying," she said.

"I would love to see something different."

Usih said the board has processes in place to deal with reports of bullying, and that steps are taken to ensure concerns are addressed appropriately.

He said privacy concerns prevent him from speaking to the specifics of Amal's case and how it was handled.

The family said the processes in place just aren't enough.

"We just want justice for our daughter," said Amal's father Aref Alshteiwi.

"She was a very good girl. I accept this is our fate …

but I'm still in shock what happened to my daughter."

The Calgary Police Service said multiple interviews were conducted immediately following Amal's death, but found no evidence of foul play.

How many more students have to commit suicide for the government to realize that the Public School system is failing and giving it more money is not the answer. The simplest solution for all of this is to increase funding for Home Education so that students and parents have a real choice in choosing to home school whether it be because of bullying or not.

Equal choice in Education means Equal funding in Education.

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