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Seriously, we need proof

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I got yet another one of those difficult bullying calls last week.

The mother who called didn’t give me her name, and only reluctantly named the schools involved. She was sure without her family’s talking it over further that she wanted to go ahead and see it in the paper.

I always make sure the family is together on these stories before I commit time — learned that lesson the hard way many times over.

But she was quite taken aback when I told her that we needed substantiation before we considered running a story. So many people seem surprised that we won’t just run a story based on their word and what they say happened. Sometimes they conclude, as this mother did, that we’re the voice of the overdog and that we don’t care that their child was bullied.

But the mainstream media maggots can’t simply do potentially great damage to the careers and reputations of educators, and to the reputations of respected schools, based solely on the word of one individual.

It didn’t help that the mother waited 3.5 years to come forward. She wants the story told before her son graduates from elementary school this month.

The gist of the mother’s story is that sometime in 2010, her young son was hit in the face by another elementary school student, who was wearing a snowmobile glove at the time. When she didn’t like the way the school handled the incident, she called the police, who went to the house of the other young boy’s parents.

The mother has an older son who, back then, was in the same elementary school. He subsequently applied to enrol in a certain private school, and was turned down; the mother says someone told her that the elementary school had red-flagged her family as troublemakers.

To even consider doing a story such as this, we need something to substantiate it. The mother has nothing in writing that would show her family was indeed red-flagged, or that her calling in the police played any role in her older son’s not getting into a particular school.

She says someone saw a note passed between schools, but she won’t tell me who that was, so I can see if that person will corroborate the story. She has no other parents or teachers or anyone whom she can name who could say that any of this is true.

Of course, I could call the two schools and ask if the circumstances outlined by an unnamed person about her unnamed son ring any bells, and ask if the schools could confirm it all happened just as she said — in my experience, that’s unlikely.

This isn’t the sort of thing one can FIPPA to find a paper trail.

And the mother, of course, believes that I don’t care about bullying or the hurt her children suffered.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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