Board and cops tight-lipped
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | December 7, 2017
When it comes to bullying in schools, the Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) and the OPP say they take the issue very seriously and are doing their part to keep kids safe and maintain a healthy environment.
But, according to several parents and students who are sharing their thoughts on social media, it’s not enough. Many of these recent comments have been directed at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School, where one young teen died suddenly in May. He, allegedly, was the victim of bullying.
In an effort to find out more, The Highlander has requested information regarding bullying incidents at HHSS. But what we’ve discovered is that statistics are hard to come by.
“Number of reports data is not gathered,” said Catherine Shedden, the TLDSB’s communications manager, when asked how many incidents have been reported to staff and administration in the last two years. Instead, Shedden provided a chart of suspensions and expulsions across the board for the last eight years.
Her response was similar when asked how many parents or guardians have been called or mailed about bullying incidents in the same time period.
“The school and board does not gather data around numbers of calls and emails regarding any particular incident,” she said.
According to the TLDSB’s Bullying Response Strategy, if a complaint has been made against another student for bullying, the bully’s parent is contacted by phone and sent a letter to inform them about it. They are also supposed to be told an investigation has confirmed there is substance to the complaint and they should speak to their child about their behaviour.
Further complaints can lead to suspension, expulsion and police involvement. Officers with the Haliburton Highlands OPP were unable to tell us how often they’ve had to investigate bullying incidents at the high school, citing confidentiality reasons. Several questions sent to Const. Dianna Dauphinee weren’t directly answered.
“I believe the responses I have provided are appropriate given the scope of your questions,” said Dauphinee. “The OPP is not in a position to speak any further with regards to this matter.”
OPP Sgt. Peter Leon suggested the paper file a Freedom of Information request for this information.
“The questions that you are seeking responses to pose a bit of an issue when it comes to the OPP providing a response,” said Leon, who is the OPP’s Central Region media relations officer. “Calls for service are operational in nature and not something that we can openly discuss due to privacy issues, the possibility of victim identification and that could lead to re-victimization in any number of forms.”
In her first email, Dauphinee provided the same comment that appeared in other local media last month. It said the OPP provides “safe and positive learning environments and encourages victims of bullying to report these incidents.” She added the OPP works closely with its partners and delivers “proactive messaging on how to effectively deal with bullying,” and that incidents are investigated.
“Those who choose to break the law, will be held accountable for their actions both by the OPP and provisions contained within the Ontario Safe Schools Act.”
As for Dauphinee’s response, Joe Evans, interim detachment commander, said she is following orders from “corporate bureau and therefore myself.”
Each school is required to have a PRISM plan. The acronym stands for Prevention strategies; Response to incidences of bullying reports; Intervention strategies; Support mechanisms for those affected by confirmed incidences of bullying; and Monitoring strategies. According to the Bullying Prevention and Intervention Procedure, schools must “communicate this to the school community and submit it to the superintendent of safe and accepting schools and the area superintendent.”
Schools also have a Safe and Accepting School Team comprised of staff to discuss supports for students, school activities and initiatives, said Shedden. A copy of the high school’s PRISM plan was provided to The Highlander.
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander.