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.
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.
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.
York Region Anti-Bullying Coalition is a non-profit advocacy organization to assist parents in navigating the complex school system when trying to find answers. We strive for a school system that will foster equality among all students, a mutual respect for one another, and a culture of fairness void of racism and violence.