Safe School Action Team takes action

By next school year, Ontario students will find it easier to report incidents of abuse or violence.

Patricia Macneil, at the Ministry of Education, said the Safe Schools Action Team (SSAT) will examine ways to prevent bullying, sexual harassment, homophobia and gender-based violence in schools. The first step is a plan for victims to report such incidents.

“This is a new area that the team has been asked about. (It will be)

making recommendations to the minster,” Macneil said. “(The SSAT) will make it easier for students to report this type of behaviour.”

The problem has come to light because parents raised the issue and because of a recent study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

The CAMH study asked students in Grades 9 to 11, from 23 schools across southwestern Ontario, to report any occurrences of abuse. Almost half of the female high school students surveyed said they were subjected to sexual comments, gestures or jokes. Debbie Chiodo, (CAMH) says there is no single cause.

“The teasing that happens in younger children, sometimes sets the ground-work for adolescent harassment,” Chiodo said. “It’s often done because young teens are trying to fit into their gender roles and what it means to be a boy or girl. The way in which boys and girls are socialized, also plays a role,” Chiodo said.

The results from the study well help the Ministry establish the appropriate action to be taken in improving school safety.

“(The Ministry needs to) mandate programs that are relationship based, where students learn to develop interpersonal skills, relationship skills and positive communication skills are embedded throughout the curriculum from K-12,” Chiodo said.

There is no single behaviour that causes bullying in schools, but it is all about who is in control and has power to inflict harm on others.

“A student can be expelled from school for bullying,” Macneil said.

Members of the SSAT include Liz Sandals, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services serving as chair, Stu Auty, the founding director of the Canadian Safe School Network, Ray Hughes, the Nationa Education Coordinator at the Centre for Prevention Science (CAMH) and Dr. Debra Pepler, a Professor of Psychology at York University and a Psychologist at the Hospital for Sick Children.