Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Justice is Served

For over a decade I have listened to horror stories by parents.  Stories of how their school boards were either too casual or completely in denial over issues of bullying.  Parents whose credibility was attacked simply for pushing the issue of keeping their child safe while at school; children who were re-victimized by those in authority by being blamed for their own victimization.

Over the years, these same parents have often taken the position that their school board knew when a student  was being aggressively victimized (either physically or verbally) by a peer(s), yet failed to take action by protecting that student. 

For many years whenever I read about an incident of bullying in the media, the standard school board response was that they were taking the matter seriously and that it was an isolated incident.  For over a decade parents have contacted me with countless examples of these isolated incidents.  They all had one common denominator…..their child was not being kept safe while at school.  Yet the Ontario Ombudsman’s office does not consider this to be a systemic issue and continues to encourage parents to resolve issues at the front lines.

On May 24th of this year Vania Karam and her son changed things thereby validating what every family before them experienced at the hands of our publicly funded education system.  This matter has garnered global attention and has found its way into Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_bullying#Legislation_and_court_rulings

In this litigation, the Plaintiffs had to prove that on a balance of probabilities the Defendant breached the standard of care as set out in Patrick v. St. Clair Catholic District School Board.  In that decision the Court stated “the standard of care to be exercised by school authorities in providing for the supervision and protection of students for whom they are responsible is that of the careful and prudent parent.”

In his Reasons for Decision, the Honourable Judge Bansie stated, among other things:
1.    1.  This court finds that the staff of Broadview Public School breached the standard of care owed to Winston Karam;

2.    2.  The Ottawa Carleton District School Board is liable for the inaction of the Broadview staff.

After the Karam Reasons were released, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board put out a statement of their own:

"The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has a very strong commitment to providing safe and caring learning environments for all students. Across the district, our schools are engaged in a number of initiatives to prevent bullying and discrimination. We believe this work is making a difference.”

Again, a standardized comment, one of which I have read many times before. I, along with the approximate 140,000 other families in the Province of Ontario, maintain this work of which they speak will only make a difference if those within our publicly funded educational system are held to account.  The Karam family did just that, for which I thank them.



Friday, March 18, 2016

Are school boards doing all that they can?

On February 27th of this year I wrote a post asking what the Ministry of Education was actually doing to keep our children safe while at school. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-ministry-education-doing-karen-sebben.  Just subsequent to that post, the York Region District School Board  was in the news over issues of racial incidents that were being ignored by the school board. http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/6329444-racial-incidents-ignored-by-york-school-board-families-say/# And, as recently as last week we now have this situation.  https://mindbendingpolitics.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/parents-plea-to-stop-the-bullying-in-her-childs-school-goes-viral/
"A safe, inclusive and accepting school environment is a necessary condition for student success. Students cannot be expected to reach their potential in an environment where they feel insecure and intimidated. We are committed to providing all students with the supports they need to learn, grow and achieve." This statement is taken directly from the Ministry of Education website, yet my phone continues to ring on a weekly basis.  
Parents are continually baffled with the process of trying to navigate the school system, constantly finding themselves on a hamster wheel when all they want is for their child to be safe while at school.
When is all of this bureaucracy by these self-governing corporations called school boards going to end? When are some of our children actually going to be respected by those whom we taught to respect? And most importantly, when are some of the adults within the system going to be held to account?
Ontario has safe schools legislation, the Ministry of Education hands down Policy Program Memorandums, each school board has a safe school policy.  Yet most of this has been created and worded in such an ambiguous manner so as to leave the safety of our students up to the discretion of those in authority.  
I do not categorize our educators.  Having said that I will be the first to point a finger where an injustice has been done.  Too many children's lives have been jeopardized by what is called our educational system and this needs to end.
- See more at: http://unpublishedottawa.com/letter/56394/schools-simply-are-not-safe-all-students#sthash.g10wNqMi.dpuf

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ontario Ministry of Education Commitment

What is the ministry doing?  “We are committed to providing a safe learning and teaching environment.  That’s why Ontario has a safe schools strategy in place and specific policies to help prevent bulling in schools.”
Safe Schools Strategy-”This strategy requires that all schools have a bully prevention and intervention plan and procedures in place, as well as a safe schools team.  Schools have been provided with resources and training for teachers and principals.  Our partnership with Kids Help Phone helps them provide confidential counselling services for children and youth.”
So there you have it….this is part of what Ontario’s commitment is for keeping kids safe at school like.
Pursuant to a Freedom of Information request from the Toronto District School Board and the York Region District School Board, when asked how many of its schools actually had a “safe schools team” in place, here is how they responded:
Toronto District School Board – “At the TDSB we implement Caring, Safe and Accepting Schools teams as per PPM 144 (Bullying Prevention and Intervention). We do not collect this data centrally; however, annually Superintendents of Education remind school Principals of the requirement for this committee.”
York Region District School Board - “It is the expectation that all schools have a safe schools team in place.  There was no requirement to report this and therefore there is no record.”
While Policy Program Memorandum 144 looks impressive, no one knows how many schools have a “safe schools team” in place.  It could be 3,000 or it could be zero.
On May 22, 2015 a young boy aged 13 was beaten up while on school property by another boy the same age who was six feet tall.  The attack was unprovoked.  The beaten child received serious injuries, including broken bones and concussion.  His assailant received a criminal charge and the school is working on expulsion.  Thereafter, the beaten child became the victim of Facebook attacks.
This family has incurred medical and counselling expenses.  The Ontario School Board Insurance Exchange, the insurer on behalf of the school board and the public school involved is of the “opinion, there is no responsibility on the part of their insured for the injuries sustained.”
The end result for this family is……..nothing.  No responsibility and no accountability.     As I continue to reference the rhetoric posted on the Ministry’s website about all the steps they take to keep children safe while at school, stories like this one only reaffirm that the Ministry boasts about something that is not always accurate, and their claims to safe school strategy are only just that…….claims.
First time parents who take their children to a publicly funded school should ask a very important question at that meet and greet before the first day of kindergarten.  “What guarantee can you provide that my child will learn in a safe environment? And if you can’t give me that guarantee, can you tell me what kind of accountability I might expect?” And get it in writing because not every serious safety issue that arises will be resolved.  The London and York Region Anti-Bullying Coalitions can provide proof of this through the hundreds of families that have reached out to us us over the past 12 and 7 years respectively because they had no where to turn.  Our experience has been that there is no “duty of care” imposed upon our publicly funded school system unless a family tries to find it in a court of law.
As of September 2015 Ontario’s Bill 8 will expand the Ombudsman’s mandate to investigate school boards and municipalities.  During a recent meeting with the Ombudsman’s office it was made clear to us that he would only be able to investigate issues of a systemic nature and his office would be the last step for resolve. 
So I ask anyone who might be reading this post…….given this family’s situation, to explain to me what Ontario’s commitment at keeping children safe while at school really is.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

"in loco parentis"....???

So…….recently I was doing some research on a legal concept called “in loco parentis”.  I am an instructor at Reeves College instructing the legal assistant and paralegal program.  To my surprise, a link attached to the Alberta Teachers’ Association website popped up:
“The Principle of in loco parentis:
The concept that the teacher is acting in loco parentis has gradually evolved through legal precedent. This means that the teacher stands, in relation to the student, in the position of a caring parent, as an unofficial guardian. This concept not only allows the teacher some of the privileges of a parent but also brings with it added responsibilities for the protection of pupils. Thus, a teacher could be liable for damage caused to a pupil where the teacher’s conduct falls below the standard of care commonly accepted as being reasonable in a parent–child relationship. A teacher may even have to meet a higher standard of care where special knowledge makes the teacher aware of dangers that the normal parent might not appreciate.
This principle affects several aspects of teacher conduct and risk.”
It also talked about negligence, supervision, student injury or illness.  It was a good piece to read actually.  The Alberta Teachers Association was, in my mind, acknowledging their responsibility of keeping students safe while at school.
This piqued my interest so much so that I continued to research and located the following on the Ontario College of Teachers website:
“In the Accepting  Schools Act, for example, schools and school boards are legally obligated to prevent bullying, which includes cyber- bullying, by taking preventative measures, issuing tougher consequences, and supporting students who want to promote understanding and respect  for all.
ADVICE TO MEMBERS: MINIMIZE THE RISKS
Know and apply legislation and your employer’s policies with respect to student safety generally and particularly those regarding codes of conduct, reporting and responding to incidents of violence and abuse, lockdown procedures and safe school protocols.
Report 
Following a safety-related incident, report the incident and actions you have taken to your direct supervisor and to appropriate health and safety representatives.”
The Ontario College of Teachers also has an Accreditation Resource Guide on their website which emphases, among other things:
“The inclusion of knowledge of education law to ensure that teacher candidates understand their professional role, their duties, their legal and ethical responsibilities……..their role in promoting and maintaining a safe, positive, healthy school environment.”
On paper this all looks very impressive to the unsuspecting parent…..right?  The parent might actually feel very comfortable sending their child off to attend publicly funded education.  And then it happens.  Your family falls into the 10% of aggressive situations where the focus is on school reputation as opposed to student safety. 
There is a huge disconnect taking place with respect to what legislation says and what is actually taking place on the front lines.  There has to be, otherwise how is it possible for students to be diagnosed with PTSD as a result of student aggression?  This is a condition usually associated with front line workers and our military personnel.
The following scenarios deal with students between grades 5 through 10.  Surely by now they must be tough enough to suck it up.  Surely by now their parents would have taught them the appropriate social skills to be able to maneuver themselves around such negative, harassing and assaulting behavior from their peers:
  • “For eight months in grade 5, our daughter endured verbal, emotional and psychological abuse by her teacher. She was just one of fourteen students in the grade 4/5 class who suffered, to varying degrees, the effects of this teacher’s treatment. In just a few short months she had changed from a confident, hard-working, fun-loving 10 year old to an angry, insecure and depressed child who no longer wanted to go to school. Despite our ongoing efforts (reaching out to teacher, principal, superintendent, director of education, trustee, Ontario College of Teachers and Ministry of Education) to bring about improvement, the situation worsened and after several more months of continued abuse, as well as a frightening experience of physical abuse by a supply teacher and a subsequent OPP investigation, our daughter’s emotional state had become extremely fragile. She was very rarely ‘okay’ and subsequently diagnosed with PTSD.”
  •  “Our child, was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from sexual trauma and bullying which occurred at school, and the school’s responses to these incidents. While at school XXX was exposed to inappropriate and explicit information about sex by a male classmate, was bullied by the same classmate, and exposed to pornographic material related to the bullying. Additional incidents of bullying and continued trauma occur to date.  We believe our child continues to experience significant symptoms because the trauma has not stopped and before trauma treatment can be effective, the trauma needs to stop. We believe the identified student’s presence within the same school environment and classroom proximity is injurious to the effective learning environment of our child and creates an unacceptable risk to the mental well-being of our child.”
(This situation continued until the abused child was removed from the school four years later.  Did the Accepting Schools Act help this student?)
  • “Our son was assaulted, repeatedly, on school property. Some of the incidents were documented, and ultimately police were involved. However, despite the assaults spanning 13 months, and police participation, there was no judicious application of Acts and Laws that would ensure our son a safe and uninterrupted education, as guaranteed in the Education Act.
  •  The most heinous of homophobic slurring is what my son endured throughout grade 8, 9 and 10. It took place all day, every day, together with physical assaults and stalking. Police, teachers and administrators are our children’s role models. For three years none of these role models came to his aid. The answer for him was to cut himself, and abuse drugs. He suffered from depression and fought suicidal tendencies. He was diagnosed with PTSD.”
So while professional teaching associations might appear impressive on paper, the above is as a result of convoluted Ministry Policy Program Memorandums that are not worth the paper they are written on.
Adult failure and the “me v. them” attitude promulgated by a certain percentage of teachers and administrators has contributed to the dark side of education for some students.
Just because one is a “professional” does not exclude them from being a bad apple and someone we should never put our children in the care of.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Rape Culture

While there is great contest between the government and parents in the province of Ontario over the newly proposed sex education curriculum, in Halifax Nova Scotia, the young man who texted a photo that showed him penetrating a 15 year-old girl while she vomited won’t see any jail time.  He pleaded guilty and received 12 months’ probation to this heinous crime.  The boy in this photo giving a thumbs up sign obviously displayed no respect for the young girl he was abusing.


Additionally, the past months contained a great deal of controversy in the media about  13 male dentistry students at Dalhousie University posting vile comments that degraded their female dentistry peers. Comments about how they were going to “sexually assault women until they’re unconscious”…among other things.

Anne Kingston of MacLeans recently reported comments made by columnist Margaret Wente of the Globe and Mail which I believe to be unrealistic, and very dismissive of the abuse of women that is taking place. 

“Wente acknowledges the students’ comments were “serious” and “cannot be condoned,” then waves them off as “asinine locker room jokes,” a “boys will be boys” comparison….”

Facebook posts “are not rape,” Wente writes, which is true. Nor are they “in the same universe as rape,” she writes, which is false. Rape culture isn’t rape itself, but rather, the ecosystem that allows it to be normalized. Rendering a woman unconscious to have sex with her is a textbook definition of rape, and a sizeable group of men joking about it together suggests a thriving rape culture.” 


Not only do Ms. Wente’s comments minimize what rape culture is in today’s society, her comments diminish the seriousness and general attitude displayed by some men, both minors and young adults, toward women. 

Are we, as a society, so accepting that we all sit back while we wait for others to create change?  I am not seeing enough outrage in both of these situations?

The end results in both Nova Scotia situations sends a clear message.  The lack of consequences attached only lets some young boys know that they can abuse a young girl and get away with it, whether pleading guilty or not.  And grown men in a university setting can target and threaten their female peers who are just supposed to suck it up.


We haven’t progressed at all as a society when it comes to rape culture, and every female young or old should be taking a stand.  Power and control is not acceptable. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Ontario's Ombudsman

Who is actual aware of the role of Ontario’s Ombudsman?  To learn more about what our Ombudsman does, please visit http://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Home.aspx.

Greg Levine, a lawyer in London and Southampton recently wrote: 

"It is critical in ombudsmanship never to lose sight of individuals and their concerns.  The "little injustices" are in fact very significant and their resolution speaks to our collective humanity.  Ombudsmen should be at the forefront of such resolutions."

On December 10, 2014 the Ontario Ombudsman’s (Andre Marin) mandate was expanded to allow his office "to investigate complaints about municipalities, universities and school boards for the first time".  While the provisions of this new legislation have not yet been proclaimed in force, it is still very unclear as to exactly what type of school board complaints our Ontario’s Ombudsman will be in a position to investigate. 

The Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act was passed on December 10, 2014.  I have been advised that “the government has yet to set a date for when the Ombudsman’s new jurisdiction will take effect.

I will be keeping a close eye on the Ombudsman’s website for further information.  
Ontario is the last province in Canada to expand the mandate of our Ombudsman to be able to investigate the MUSH (Municipalities, Universities, School Boards, Hospitals) sector.  In fact, the push for this has been taking place since 1975, when the first  Ombudsman for Ontario was appointed.  Hence the term “the push for MUSH”.


It is my hope that families in Ontario will be able to lodge a complaint with our Ombudsman as a result of unresolved student safety issues, which include bullying and cyberbullying.  We will, however, still be in a position to use local complaint mechanisms before contacting the Ombudsman’s office.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Rehtaeh Parsons - A name I will never forget

The Youth Criminal Justice Act was established April 1, 2003 and is the law that governs Canada’s youth justice system.  It applies to youth who are at least 12 years of age to under 18 years of age, who have allegedly committed criminal offences.
The preamble/declaration states, among other things that "communities and families should work in partnership with others to prevent youth crime by addressing its underlying causes, responding to the needs of young persons and providing guidance and support".
Additionally, the "the youth justice system should take into account the interests of victims and ensure accountability through meaningful consequences, rehabilitation and reintegration".
And the part that I really like, is that the Youth Criminal Justice Act is a “system that is intended to protect the public by (i) holding young persons accountable through measures that are proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the young person, (ii) promoting the rehabilitation and reintegration of young persons, and (iii) supporting crime prevention by referring young persons to programs......"
Canada’s youth justice system is restorative in nature.  I get that.  It further guarantees the rights and freedoms of young people, including those set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, another area that Canada is woefully lacking in.
Now let’s turn to that house party in November of 2011 where a 15 year old girl had too much to drink.  It resulted in a photo of her vomiting out of a window while a young boy violated her from behind.  Let’s talk about how she was bullied and shamed, and how she turned to self-harming as a result of that photo circulating. AND let’s talk about how no one took notice until she attempted to take her own life 18 months after that sexual assault.  She died on April 7, 2013, as a victim that still needs to be protected.
Let’s talk about Rehtaeh Parsons, a name that Canada’s youth justice system is trying to get us to forget as a result of one of this country’s highest profiled child pornography case stemming out of Halifax - a judge ordered publication ban for the purpose of protecting the “victim”.  The time to have protected this victim was when she came forward with the allegations. 
The young lad who took the photo when he was 17 years old (who is now 20 years old) pleaded guilty to one of the most heinous crimes - Child Pornography.  His sentence is a “conditional discharge”, which means that as long as he behaves for the next 12 months and meets the conditions imposed by the Judge, he walks away a free man.
The media may have been ordered not to use the name of Rehtaeh Parsons, but I wasn’t.  AND now I need to ask – was there “accountability through meaningful consequences” established here?  Did Rehtaeh receive justice, or has the Youth Criminal Justice Act just empowered young boys to violate young women knowing that they will be able to walk out of the courtroom without substantial consequences?

Lastly – does unjust law exist?