Monday, March 5, 2012

Anti-Bullying Legislation


It is vital to the success of our education system and the well being of generations of children and young adults to reduce the incidence and impact of bullying. Without informed decision-making and effective legislation, every Ontario student remains at risk. The following are key points for effective change:

Safeguards need to be written into the Education Act that would prevent students from being harmed by all acts of bullying including, but not limited to, homophobic acts, and, especially, those acts carried out by adults in positions of authority within the system. These must apply to all members of school communities
Students, families and all members of the public or school community must have easy and equal access to information that is provided to school boards as a means to assist in dealing with bullying incidents, including instructional material, data, definitions and policies.
Improved data collection, tracking and reporting, and follow-up when students are withdrawn from schools or boards is needed to truly understand the impact of bullying and to make effective changes.
Damage caused by bullying has a wide reach and affects all parties, including victim(s), perpetrator(s) and their families. Early intervention is critical and school boards should be held both morally and financially responsible for providing necessary counseling, especially in cases where issues are allowed to remain unresolved and damage reaches critical levels.
One overarching and comprehensive policy for all of Ontario’s school boards would do away with inconsistencies, confusion and too little accountability. Boards would be held to compliance and students would be kept as safe as possible, as failure to comply would bring consequences for those not fulfilling their job requirements.
Autonomous school boards are not serving their students well enough as is evidenced by the increasing number of bullying related lawsuits against school boards. There is a clear need for consistent and effective third party oversight, such as the previously proposed extended jurisdiction of the Ombudsman.
The duty to report bullying incidents must apply even if the bully is an employee. There must be some form of legislation in place to protect employees who come forward in order to protect victims of bullying at the hands of teachers or other staff. ‘Whistleblower’ legislation would serve this purpose and allow for integrity and responsibility within teachers unions.
Wording in the Education Act and all school board policies must be decisive and reflect a genuine desire for accountability within Ontario’s school system. At present, phrasing most frequently allows all levels to opt out of action and accountability until student safety is dangerously compromised.

In conclusion, although we would like to be optimistic about the possibility of positive change with the tabling of Bills 13 and 14, instead we are concerned that Ontario families are about to begin a lengthy period of time with no real improvement in the area of bullying prevention and no possibility for such. There are two bills tabled, two bills that have some good ideas but two bills that don’t go far enough. We beseech all parties to work together and take time for careful consideration over the drafting of a final bill because, once passed, that bill will silence bullying issues for some time. Once a bill is passed, the government of the day can claim that there is no further need to look at bullying issues. They can claim they’ve already addressed the issues and that time is needed to see how effective the new legislation is…and that will likely amount to years. The students of Ontario cannot afford to have any more ineffective legislation passed. They cannot afford any further ‘bandaid’ approaches or ‘wait and see’ attitudes. Comprehensive and effective legislated changes to the Education Act are needed to ensure that this province is doing its’ very best to keep students safe in its’ schools. Bullying is abusive in nature and is a result of intolerance, inequity and misuses of power. In order to put an end to bullying and bullycide, we must implement an anti-oppressive framework. If we are to use legislation to help build this framework, the language must be concise and specific regarding bullying and peer abuse. To integrate the problem of bullying with other school-based issues would, in effect, put the issue of bullying on the back burner yet again. Our hope is to have a bill strictly devoted to anti-bullying for all students and to keep other issues of equality separate so that the bill’s purpose is not distorted, making it about political reputations or narrowing the bullying focus to issues of sexual orientation, instead of the safety and learning success of every single one of the children and youth in this province.