Thursday, January 10, 2008

School Safety

Below, I am posting the latest news about the Toronto District School Board and its culture of concealment. One would be naïve, however, to think that the failure of administrators to report assaults is unique to that board. I remember an incident in my own career a few years back when the vice-principal informed me that a student would be joining my English class three weeks into the semester. I was told that the student had been a victim of bullying in one of her classes, and therefore her entire schedule was being rearranged so she would no longer be in the class where the bullying took place. When I asked the vice-principal why this student was being victimized a second time by having her schedule disrupted, she said, “Lorne, I’m trying to save this girl.” When I asked why the people responsible for the bullying weren’t being punished instead, she claimed that she didn’t know their identities, something I found hard to believe. Two days later, a guidance counselor confirmed to me that the v.p. had been lying in claiming not to know their identities. Similarly, you will read of administrative cravenness and ineptitude in the story that follows. I have put the most pertinent parts in bold print.

Report describes 'culture of fear' in TDSB
Hundreds of assaults go unreported

January 10, 2008
The Toronto District School Board should consider purchasing and using firearm-detecting K9 units, according to one of the recommendations of the School Community Safety Advisory Panel report - a document that paints perhaps the grimmest picture yet of Toronto's public schools, rife with hundreds of violent, often unreported, assaults.

The panel's final report - set to be released in a few days, but obtained by The Globe and Mail yesterday - weighs in at almost 1,000 pages and describes not only numerous violent incidents but a pervasive culture of silence among students, staff and principals when it comes to reporting those incidents.

"This culture of fear, or culture of silence, permeates through every level of the TDSB," the report says.

"There is a community-wide crisis of confidence in the ability of the TDSB to ensure violence-free and weapons-free environments in all of its schools," it says.

The panel was set up by the TDSB after the shooting death of 15-year-old Jordan Manners last May at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute in North York. The final massive report comes after the panel, headed up by respected criminal lawyer Julian Falconer, asked for and received several budget and timeline extensions.

The report's findings show a shockingly high number of violent school incidents.
Since Jan. 13, 2006, the panel says it found 177 violent incidents in schools across the district -- they include gun incidents, robberies and sexual assaults. The panel found there were guns in select schools across the city "in non-trivial numbers."

At Westview Centennial secondary school near the corner of Jane and Finch, the panel found that one of every three female students said they have been the victim of sexual harassment at their school over past two years. Almost 30 per cent of female students at the school said they had experienced unwanted sexual contact over that period of time.

Twenty-nine female students said they had been victims of major sexual assault at the school.

At C.W. Jefferys, almost 20 per cent of female students said they had been the victims of sexual assault, the report said.

One of the most shocking side effects of the panel's investigation over the past few months was the discovery of the alleged sexual assault of a female Muslim student at C.W. Jefferys. The final report sheds more light on the incident, which took place in October, 2006.

According to the report, several students approached a female teacher to report that a Muslim girl had been sexually assaulted in the second-floor boys washroom by a group of boys.

"The students came forward because they were concerned that the boys involved were targeting girls who were unpopular and isolated," the report says.

The female teacher and the students told a vice-principal about the alleged attack, but neither police or her parents were informed, the report says.

As more students heard about what happened, however, the female student was further harassed by other students, although steps were taken to curb abuse, the report says.
The female student was eventually transferred to another school at the request of both her and her father. But no steps were taken to remove the alleged attackers from school, the report says.

The former principal and two vice-principals at C.W. Jefferys have been charged under Ontario's Child and Family Services Act with failing to report an alleged sexual assault on a student, Toronto District School Board education director Gerry Connelly confirmed this week, before the final report's release.

Some of the report's recommendations are almost as sensational as some of the findings.

"The TDSB should take immediate steps to ensure that adequate security measures are employed to ensure all potential storage areas for weapons (including lockers) are the subject of regular non-intrusive searches," the report says.

Consideration should also be given to random usage of TDSB-owned K9 units that specialize in firearm detection, the panel advised.

The panel also recommended the provincial government amend the education act to create a mandatory reporting obligation for all school staff when it comes to such violent incidents.

Schools with high suspension, expulsion or dropout rates should be staffed with full-time social workers and youth workers, the panel advised - TDSB should also hire 20 new full-time social workers dedicated to high-priority schools.

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