Febreze-bearing teacher gives boost to bullies

Brian Jones
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There are so many rude, obnoxious adults — who presumably raise like-minded kids — it isn’t surprising there seems to be an equal number of bullies populating classrooms, roaming hallways and ruling schoolyards.

Educators have gone on a PR blitz the past number of years, trying to convince anyone who cares or has a kid in class that “zero tolerance” policies have made schools a huge hug fest, rather than the slugfest of yesteryear.

Maybe this approach has succeeded in schools in Disneyland, but in the real world, there is evidence aplenty that the spouting of principals and school boards is merely self-serving spin and pedagogical propaganda.

Consider the case of 10-year-old Christian Roberts, who on Feb. 2 was sprayed with air freshener by his teacher at Twillingate Island Elementary School because he smelled of fried caplin.

The following Sunday, his mom, Patti Rideout, wrote a letter of complaint to the Nova Central School District.

This week, the antics of the Febreze-armed educator made news across the country, causing millions of people west of Port aux Basques to wonder what caplin are and what they smell like when fried.

The reaction to headlines about the boy’s hallway hazing prove, if nothing else, that the ratio of bullies in schools and among the public runs about 1:1.

Put another way, it is reasonable to conclude that for every bully at school, there is at least one adult bully at home.

A common reaction among the rude and obnoxious crowd of bully-raisers was that Rideout is merely a publicity seeker looking for her “15 minutes” of fame.

In true bully fashion, some people didn’t let the facts get in the way of a good pummelling.

The story arose because Rideout wrote a letter of complaint about the incident to the school district. She was defending her child, as she should. She has said the massive media attention took her by surprise, as it undoubtedly did. Most people don’t usually try to draw attention to personal situations that are humiliating, embarrassing or hurtful.

Some observers, after castigating Rideout for her alleged self-aggrandizement, blasted the media for covering the story. Here’s a quick lesson in Journalism 101 for them: when was the last time you heard about a teacher spraying a pupil with air freshener? … That’s why it’s newsworthy.

It is also newsworthy because it’s a perfect example of how a blame-the-victim mentality still prevails among the public and in schools. Spraying the kid with air freshener implied — no, it said outright — he was at fault.

His sin?

Eating fried caplin when he went home for lunch.

Rather than hauling out the Febreze, the teacher should have told the rude brats who were taunting Christian to shut up or get out.

Apparently, the miscreants have never been taught that one aspect of common courtesy is to refrain from commenting on or drawing attention to other people’s appearance or personal attributes. For example, don’t stare at the one-legged man riding a unicycle. It’s a basic tenet of good manners, but is seemingly absent in some Newfoundland (and possibly Labrador) households.

But the kid stank like fried fish, some people have said in defence of the taunters. So? Was he hurting anyone? Was he endangering anyone? Perhaps the aroma was bothersome. Too bad. Shut up about it. It’s just as likely the bullies would be bothered by a pink shirt or dorky glasses.

Imagine if this incident had happened in Toronto.

Patriotic, frying Newfoundlanders would have waved the tricolour and screamed outrage at the Mainlanders’ insult and condescension, and dashed to the phone to call MP Ryan Cleary.


Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at bjones@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Febreze, Twillingate Island Elementary School, The Telegram

Geographic location: Disneyland, Port aux Basques, Newfoundland Toronto

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Recent comments

  • Jane
    February 15, 2012 - 14:15

    Yes, lets all in live in fear of the wrath of 10 year old bullies. Well said my friend.

  • A local
    February 15, 2012 - 11:58

    Very nice job on writing this article. It truly hits the nail on the head. One other thing I keep thinking about is the nutritional value of fish compared to say, pizza pockets and Pepsi. On the one had you have food that is healthy, local, fresh and very good for us. On other hand you have foods that cause obesity, diabetes and god only knows what. We live on an island in the Atlantic Ocean and have the rare luxury of fresh, locally caught fish. The ignorance of the entire situation is shocking to me.

  • John
    February 15, 2012 - 11:32

    If this Mother wanted her 15 minutes, she got that and then some. By making a big deal out of this in the international media and social computer sites, she is the one responsible for her son's teasing and bullying in school. The teacher definately showed bad judgement in this incident as well. She did offer to go into the classroom and apologise for her behaviour though this doesn't excuse what she did. Let's wait until the school board is done its inquirey before we start throwing stones.

  • Concerned parents
    February 12, 2012 - 14:51

    CONCERNED PARENTS OF THE TWILLINGATE ISLAND ELEMENTARY GRADE 5 CLASS We, as the parents, feel it is important to let the public know that there are 2 sides to the "febrezing" story and our children should not be portrayed as mean, malicious bullies or teasers. That could not be further from the truth. We are not trying to speak harshly of the mother or the victim, but the public should know the story through the students' eyes. Majority of the students in the class came home and told the exact same story to their parents: In the day of the incident, Christian came back to school from lunch smelling of capelin (which we all know can be of a strong scent). The children complained of the smell in the classroom. This being typical behaviour of 10 year old children. It was then, that Christian starting chasing the children around the classroom, trying to hug them, and spreading the capelin scent on their clothes (laughing while doing so). You can imagine the commotion that this caused in a class of 20 children. When the teacher came in, she tried to get control of her class. Acting in compassion, meaning no harm or embarrassment to the child, she then went looking for some sort of deodorizer. She found some febreze, sprayed some in his locker and a little on his shirt. The student remained in the hallway for a short period of time until everything calmed down. He then continued to work with the other students on their social studies projects. End of Story! Our children are devastated because they are being portrayed as bullies. They feel confused because they don't understand why this innocent act has gone to extreme measures. The students are concerned that they will lose a teacher that they respect and admire. There's no denying her skills as a teacher. We, as parents, feel she should return to class and rebuild her reputation as the fine teacher we know her to be. The above letter was sent to the Nova Central School District and it is also mentioned on other media. In reading your editorial, and the fact that you should know Journalism 101, there are TWO sides to every story as mentioned in the above letter. We are not rude, obnoxious adults of bully-raisers nor are our children brats or miscreants. This could not be further from the truth. You wrote that Ms. Rideout said that the mass media attention has taken her by surprise but to date she is still willing to talk to anyone who wants to listen. Instead of the incident being dealt with within the school and the school district, it is now being aired across Canada and the United States as an one-sided story. This has left us no choice but to defend us and our children because we were judged very unfairly. Until it hit the media and they were being called bullies, our children didn't think much about the incident. Our children want to resume normal everyday life in their classroom with their teacher. AN APOLOGY FROM YOU IS EXPECTED.

    • Jill
      February 13, 2012 - 11:37

      There are usually one or two (if not more) bullies in every class. Seems hard to believe this class would be an exception. And what about the school's very own admission that ongoing bullying issues, even prior to this particular incident, had now come to light?

    • DP
      February 14, 2012 - 15:41

      Letter from Concerned Parents - This is the same script the mayor of Twillingate used on Open Line. He also stated that he has 2 grand kids at that school and that the teacher is the principal's sister among some other interesting details of the case.

    • Julia
      February 17, 2012 - 07:19

      Amen to this letter from the children's parents! It is wonderfully written and expresses a point that our talentless media has failed to notice. There are two sides to every story. The teacher was simply trying to gain control of a situation where she was outnumbered 20-1. The other children were probably not bullying the boy in the malicious manner that his mother has made it out to be. If anyone is at fault here it's Ms. Rideout for plastering her son all over every news show and newspaper in the country! You think he'll need counselling Ms. Rideout? If he does, you should only look to yourself for the cause. I feel bad for the teacher and all the kids involved here.

  • Sensibility
    February 11, 2012 - 18:33

    I honestly believe that this teacher would never intentionally or maliciously hurt one of his or her students! She was probably trying to help that little boy by removing the smell off him and I bet she probably spoke firmly to her class about not teasing him as well! Shame on that parent for totally embarassing her little boy all over the media! She owes the teacher an apology! I do hope that this student can find some normalancy for the rest of his school year somehow!

    • DP
      February 12, 2012 - 09:03

      The U.S. Department of Justice defines abusive traits as including causing fear by intimidation, forcing isolation from family, friends, school or work. Health Canada has a list of characteristics including rejecting, degrading, isolating, corrupting/exploiting and denying. One of the numerous tactics used by abusers includes denial that previous abusive incidents occurred. Turning children against their parents is one of the more subtle tactics used by abusers as it makes it much more difficult for children to report future incidents of abuse. Teachers have the opposite view of everyone else on how the situation should have been handled. School bullying will continue so long as teachers remain exempted from following the same standards as everyone else. Anti-bullying statements mean absolutely nothing when teachers’ actions state the opposite. “Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other”. ~Edmund Burke.

  • Disillusioned Parent
    February 11, 2012 - 08:05

    CYFS and the Child and Youth Advocate aren't involved. Local authorities aren't investigating under the Criminal Code of Canada/Persons in Positions of Trust. The matter was handled internally by the district school board. The teacher eventually admitted wrongdoing. After a few days off she returns to her position with the caveat that she now has to apologize to the victim in front of the class. Her colleagues in the NLTA and Safe Schools claim she was merely trying to help a victim whose mother erred in feeding him capelin at home for lunch. Normal procedure is to isolate victim, continue teaching all the other children and if a smell is involved, spray the victim with a chemical soup. The theory that half the parents are a “rude and obnoxious crowd of bully-raisers” may very well be true. The really sad part though is that teachers who have such vast influence on social behavior are promoting this type of conduct as helpful and normal.

  • Watcher
    February 10, 2012 - 18:42

    I have a feeling the teacher was trying to help the poor boy after he was mercilessly taunted and ridiculed by his peers. She sought to diffuse the smell that likely offended the brats sitting around him far more than it offended her. Oh, and mom should probably have turned on the fan or opened a window while cooking lunch and made her son wash his hands before heading back to school. I think the mom is the one who blew this entirely out of proportion.

  • Jane
    February 10, 2012 - 18:41

    Thank-you very much. I have been following this story and this is the first time I feel this story has been represented appropriately. To @Richard, who feels "The Telegram is publishing such biased material"; you can research the word "Bias" on http://www.merriam-webster.com; If I were you and I had written that comment, I would be embarressed of my malapropism. Also, the teacher's side of the story is irrelavant because she shouldn't be spraying children with anything.

  • s
    February 10, 2012 - 17:59

    I think the biggest sin of anything here is that poor child will never live this town. Everyone knows about it! If he seemed of fish one day everyone would forget about... hell if the teacher sprayed him down... 5 years time would anyone remember? NO, but now its all over the news so 5, 10, 15 years time he will still be that boy on the news that was sprayed for smelling like caplin. And at the same time as this a woman was stabbed! Anyone hear about that? hardly... Whats this world coming too!

  • Herb Morrison
    February 10, 2012 - 14:52

    Respect for personal boundaries is essential when dealing woth other people. I would think this would have been part of any teachers' basic training. If you are training for a profession where you will be dealing with opeople, the importance of respecting personal boundaries is a part of your training. One rule of thuimb in this regard, with regard tyo personal boundaries, you never, nebver say or do anything to put yourself in a compromising position , in this respect. If the boy smelled offensively, the teacher should have simply contacted his mother to come and take him home. This situation has both ethical and possibly legal implications for the teacher in question.

  • DD
    February 10, 2012 - 13:10

    Snow days for the teacher. That'll be her "punishment".

  • Wayne Osmond
    February 10, 2012 - 12:35

    If this was a kid from another Culture having a so called ethnic meal and was sprayed with febreze, our minister of education would be on the media apologizing. Agree or disagree?

  • Dave McGowan
    February 10, 2012 - 12:04

    that teacher needs to be fired ....

  • Richard
    February 10, 2012 - 11:58

    The fact that The Telegram is publishing such biased material when the teacher is not permitted, by nature of her profession, to give her side of the story is what is truly ridiculous about all this. Teachers make thousands of decisions in the run of a day and they are not all easy ones. What may have been an error in judgement was most likely done in the best interests of the student. The teacher may have been trying to diffuse a bullying situation. However, we do not know the facts as we have not heard the other side of the story. Instead, your editorial is content to paint the teacher as villainous. It is quite frankly irresponsible and you should be ashamed.

  • Jill
    February 10, 2012 - 10:53

    Thank you Brian.

  • not impressed
    February 10, 2012 - 10:23

    I feel there is a difference in opinion about this whole story ...i believe if the student had sprayed the teacher with febreeze ..then all hell would have broke loose and he would have been suspened and parents contacted ....so the school would not have tolerated this but expects a 10 year old and the parent to accept this as okay and not make such a big deal out of this ...this is proof that the school board looks after each other and is certianly not looking out for the little guy ..it could have been handled in a better way from teacher .....ask this teacher if she would feel differently if some other kid or even an adult or one of her peers did this to a son of heres and would she feel it was just and no big deal ..that teacher is big and ugly enough to heal but that poor kid ..this bullying will be continued forever know because of her ....shame on this teacher and shame on the school for supporting this....

  • sealcove
    February 10, 2012 - 08:19

    The biggest bully in newfoundland is now retired ,

    February 10, 2012 - 08:18

    BEWARE of MEDIAS stings & stinks ? KEEP OUT !

  • Elaine Vickers
    February 10, 2012 - 08:10

    Very well said! Thanks for this; just posted it to my Facebook page...

  • Herb Morrison
    February 10, 2012 - 07:33

    Well said Mr. Jones.

    • Parent First
      February 10, 2012 - 10:59

      Excellent job Mr. Jones for actully telling it like it is! To place blame on a protective Mom and innocent 10 year old is shameful!! I wonder how the teacher would have felt if she were publically humilated about the scent of her lunch in front of her students? I wonder would she have allowed someone spray her down with febreeze ??? SHAME on the teacher for behaving like a bully and not addressing the situation with empathy and providing a lesson to other students on respect and zero tolerance for bullying! She would not have gotten away with this if it were an adult an, so how dare she treat a child like this! Very hard to believe the Teachers Asscoiation are defending the actions of this teacher. I wonder what would happen if a student did this same action to another student? SUSPENDED! This should not be a double standard.