Friday, January 11, 2008

School Safety - Part 2

The findings of the school safety panel investigating violence in the Toronto District School Board were reported in today’s Globe and Mail. Teachers, I think, will see the almost universal truth expressed in the section I have placed in bold print.

Fears of career suicide stopped educators from reporting violence

From Friday's Globe and Mail
January 11, 2008 at 4:01 AM EST

Teachers and school staff are too intimidated to speak out about violence in Toronto's public schools, a damning report charges.

A school safety panel revealed yesterday that employees of the Toronto District School Board told them they feared that revealing school safety issues or anything that would reflect negatively on the board would be "a career-limiting move."
As a result, hundreds of incidents that should have been reported were not. This "culture of fear" led to a failure of the system and its overseers to protect students from violence, including robberies and sexual assault, on school grounds, the report said.

"Jordan Manners died on May 23, 2007, of flat neglect, pure neglect," panel chair Julian Falconer said yesterday, referring to the 15-year-old whose shooting sparked the inquiry.

The panel's findings had officials at Canada's largest school board facing uncomfortable questions about why so many violent incidents go unreported, and why it took the death of a 15-year-old to prompt a review of school safety.

"I think that until [the Jordan Manners shooting] happened, we probably thought we had a pretty good handle on it," said John Campbell, chair of the TDSB. "And I think what that did is it really drew attention to the fact that we didn't have a very good handle on it."

Mr. Falconer said many officials within the school system are too intimidated to report violent incidents. Many of the school officials interviewed by the panel refused to go on the record for fear of reprisal.

"People are afraid and it's not just students; it's teachers," Mr. Falconer said.
Toronto District School Board officials hastily convened a press conference yesterday. Both the School Community Safety Advisory Panel's final report and the press conference were scheduled for early next week, but the report was leaked to virtually all the city's major news media outlets on Wednesday.

The panel - led by Mr. Falconer - was asked to report on school safety after Jordan was shot to death at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute in North York.
The report, which is almost 1,000 pages, describes the country's largest school system as rife with violence, including robberies and sexual assaults - all unreported by school officials.

The lack of reporting is the biggest problem the board must deal with, according the Manners family's lawyer.

"That is one of the greatest concerns," said Courtney Betty. "That code of silence continues to be maintained."

Mr. Betty said it remains to be seen the extent to which the TDSB will continue the "mirage" that everything is all right within the school system.

Jordan's mother, Laureen Small, is especially upset that a summary of the report was not given to her in advance, the lawyer said. Ms. Small found out about its contents from news stories yesterday.

Since Jordan's killing, Mr. Betty said, no one from the TDSB has contacted Ms. Small to express condolences.

Gerry Connelly, the TDSB's director of education, said that while the school board's own information shows that students feel safe in their schools, the report clearly indicated more work is needed.

"With respect to weapons, with respect to violence, with respect to sexual assaults: our students and our staff must feel clearly, absolutely safe and they must feel empowered to report any incident or suspicion that comes to their notice."

The school board is piloting a "Safeline" that students can call anonymously 24 hours a day to report incidents.

But Mr. Falconer said there is no "quick fix" to the board's problems.
"You could fill a Home Hardware with the amount of knives kids bring to school, but we don't find them," he said.

Since Jan. 13, 2006, the panel says, it found 177 violent incidents in schools across the district, including gun incidents, robberies and sexual assaults. During its inquiry, the panel came across allegations of a gang sexual assault of a Muslim female student at C.W. Jefferys.

At Westview Centennial Secondary School near the corner of Jane and Finch, 29 female students said they had been victims of major sexual assault at the school in the past two years, according to the report.

The panel issued 126 recommendations, including that the board employ canine units to sniff out weapons in a "non-intrusive" manner.

The panel also calls on the Ministry of Education to strike a task force on implementing the recommendations.

Education Minister Kathleen Wynne would not comment on specific recommendations in the report, saying she needed more time to study it. However, she said the ministry will fund more social workers and counsellors and continues to pump more money into the school system.

"There's always more to do," she said. "We've been changing the funding formula every year."

Some of the panel's other recommendations received mixed reviews.
A Toronto police officer questioned a proposal for each school to set up a "student hot-line," manned by pupils familiar with such issues as bullying, augmented by a TDSB-created website allowing students to relay anonymous crime-related tips.
Such tip lines are already in place, albeit in different forms.

"And we don't need to reinvent the wheel," said Constable Scott Mills, who runs Toronto's Crime Stoppers school program.

Constable Mills said he offered to speak to the Falconer panel, but none of its members got back to him.

At C.W. Jefferys yesterday, students didn't seem too concerned about the dire condition the report says their school is in. However, some said that students simply don't talk about violent incidents.

"The reputation going around is: when you talk, you're basically a snitch," said student Chandé Wilmot. "[People worry] that they might get beat up."
With reports from James Bradshaw, Timothy Appleby and Anthony Capuano
Violent acts

Examples of violent incidents involving Toronto public school students:
February, 2006 - A high-school student was in a laneway behind the school passing a rifle back and forth with another student. Shots were fired into a window at the back of a house.

February, 2006 - Two female secondary-school students were in a conflict over a boy. One girl brought a knife to school and used it to threaten the other girl. Police investigated and cautioned the girl with the knife. The school issued a 20-day suspension.

April, 2006 - Five secondary-school students robbed another student of his MP3 player at the back of the school. The victim was searched for money but only had 25 cents in his wallet, which the suspects took. All five students were arrested and charged with robbery.

September, 2006 - A male secondary-school teacher entered the staff washroom and caught two students engaged in a sex act. Both students were taken to the office and the administration called the police. Even though the sex act was determined to be consensual, criminal charges were laid against the male student because of the age of the female. The school was to discipline the female student.

March, 2007 - A male student at a high school tried to drag a female student into the washroom to perform fellatio. She broke free and ran to the principal. When arresting the male, police found 10 dime bags of marijuana.

May, 2007 - A student brought a BB gun to school and shot at two students. The student was charged by police.

September, 2007 - Several boys were allegedly involved in the sexual initiation of a female high-school student, who told a teacher about the incident. Police are investigating.

November, 2007 - A secondary-school student assaulted another student with a knife on school property. Police arrested the student and told him to keep away from the school. The principal issued a 20-day suspension pending possible expulsion.

Source: The Road to Health: A Final Report on School Safety

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