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.

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