If you live in Toronto, then unless you've been living under a rock for the last 2 years, you are well aware of the disturbing rise in violence in our schools. Mitch brought this topic up last week and it appears someone was listening (ok, fine, this report was mandated long before Mitch asked what was being done to help curb school violence, but the timing is awfully suspicious if you ask me... but i digress...)
In February, less than a year after a tragic school shooting in Toronto (not the first, or the last one), the Safe Schools Action Team was mandated to "review issues of gender-based violence, homophobia, sexual harassment, and inappropriate sexual behaviour by students towards other students and a review of the Local Police/School Board Protocols, including but not limited to reporting requirements".
The Safe Schools Action Team, and consequently this report, are guided by several principles, but one important one in particular: "students are more able and more more motivated to do well and achieve their full potential in schools that have a positive school climate and in which they feel safe and supported. " Those last few words are crucial. There is a difference between 'being safe', and 'feeling safe'. We are often told by our government that we are 'safe', be it from terrorism, a horrible snow storm, the city's infrastructure, or economic uncertainty, but it doesn't mean anything if we don't feel safe. The kids in our schools, and their parents and guardians as well, must feel safe, not just be told that they are safe.
So what did the report show? The findings were not surprising of course, and I found the recommendations to be interesting and hopeful-with one caveat, which I'll get to later. The recommendations covered many different areas. For the sake of not writing a novel and losing the growing readership that this blog is getting, I'll touch on only a few of them. I've highlighted only key elements of the following recommendations.
[Read the report here]
- Curriculum- The Safe Schools Action Team recommends changes to the curriculum including revising the Health and Physical Education curriculum and developing a senior level course that would focus on character development, healthy relationship skills, citizenship and community.
- Prevention, Awareness Raising, Intervention- All school staff must intervene to address inappropriate and disrespectful behaviour. (By the way, there is an awesome suggestion from the Toronto District School Board entitled 'How to Handle Harassment in the Hallways in Three Minutes'- can't link right to it, so check out Appendix C of the report)
- Response and Support- School boards must provide staff with the necessary skills to respond to and support students who disclose or report incidents
- Reporting- All school staff must report to the principal any incident that should be considered for suspension, or that the principal is required to call the police for.
- Student Leadership- (I love the fact that the report touched on how students can step up to help their own cause. This will not just all come from the schools). Publicly funded schools must support students that want to engage in school-led clubs, must engage school councils and student councils to support these student-led activities, and give students opportunities to take a leadership role in prevention and intervention strategies.
- Training- School boards must provide teachers, and all other school staff the training necessary to effectively respond to gender-based violence, homophobia, sexual harassment and inappropriate sexual behaviour.
All in all, a fascinating report that I hope will be looked back upon one day as being groundbreaking. The caveat that I mentioned above? At the end of the day, the report is just that, a report. It is just words. The onus now falls on the school boards, the educators, the parents, and yes, even the students. I'll even throw organizations such as ourselves in there- as being a prominent and active member in the youth sector gives us the same responsibility to foster a safe environment for our children. We all want the students to feel safe again at school. It is time to step up. All of us.