“He will defend himself but he shouldn’t have to go to school and be fighting,” said Susan Kayombo, sitting in the living room of her Westmount home.
“He loves school and he’s so quiet. He’s not one to fight but he has to or he’s just going to be picked on.”
Kayombo was married to an African man and the couple had two children. While her oldest daughter, who is 13, has had some issues with verbal insults and racial comments, she said Keenan is constantly attacked.
She said she thinks part of the reason is because he is bi-racial. The other is because he suffers from selective mutism, a rare form of childhood anxiety that makes it difficult for someone to speak to certain people or in certain situations.
Keenan goes to Robin Foote Elementary. Kayombo said that in Primary one boy the same age as Keenan bullied him but it stopped in Grade 1 when Keenan fought back.
In Grade 2, she said it started again with two brothers older than Keenan, and the attacks included racial slurs and insults. She said it has continued this year when he entered Grade 3.
“Kennan was told that his face looked like the colour of this kid’s (excrement) that came out of his asshole,” she said.
Kayombo said since Keenan doesn’t speak much, she hears about it from teachers, parents and friends.
“He was kicked in the privates so much I thought he was going to be ruptured,” Kayombo said.
“(A parent) told me their son came home really upset about what was said to Keenan.”
While she has only seen a bruise once on Keenan’s forehead from an incident off of school property, Kayombo said Keenan often complains of a sore stomach from getting punched.
“If Keenan is going to go through this every year, which seems to be happening so far, he’s either not going to want to go to school or … I’m scared he’s going to be violent because he’s had to fight his way through school,” she said.
Lynn Crawford, co-ordinator of race relations, cross-cultural understanding and human rights with the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, confirmed any behaviour that is consistent with bullying is not tolerated on any school ground.
“Any situation that is brought to our attention, we immediately investigate,” she said during a telephone interview.
“It’s really important that parents, if they feel there’s an ongoing issue, that they do contact the principal and then the board office, if they feel there’s no resolve.”
Crawford said they may use sensitivity training to help students understand why what they are doing or saying is wrong and often have these lessons imbedded in the curriculum.
Kayombo said she has gone to the school’s principal many times and doesn’t see any changes.
“I even said to the school (principal), ‘Why is this kid not being sent home from school? Why not suspend him?,’” Kayombo said.
Kayombo said she hasn’t gone to the school board or tried talking to the parents of the boys who are hurting Keenan because she doesn’t think it will solve the problem.
She has reached out to a student support worker who has intervened on her children’s behalf before. Because she has no car, Kayombo said she can’t move Keenan to another school because she can’t drive him there.
She said she fears he will be seriously hurt or will hurt someone else and that she also worries about his self-esteem and mental health when he is older.
“Something needs to be done. There’s so many kids out there who get bullied from this age and when they hit my daughter’s age, lots of them (die by) suicide, unfortunately,” she said.
“I know it’s not just Keenan being bullied… but it feels like no one cares until they do something to themselves.”