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Trustees call on public school board to release violence data

‘What I’m concerned with is, what’s happening, where it’s happening, and what are we doing about it? Time is of the essence. People are getting hurt,’ said trustee

Following reports across the province of an uptick in violent incidents in schools, the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB) will now be publicly reporting data annually on incidents.

During their Sept. 27 regular board meeting, public board trustees voted in favour of having staff provide a report on violence in schools no later than the December 2023 board meeting for the 2022/23 school year. The board will be required to provide this report annually each September moving forward.

The report will include all incidents of possession of a weapon including a firearm or any object used as a weapon, physical assaults requiring medical attention, sexual assaults, robbery, extortion, hate-motivated occurrences, assaults not requiring medical attention, human trafficking and gang activity.

The motion was put forward by Collingwood/Wasaga Beach trustee Mike Foley.

“When staff put forward a report this past spring asking students how safe they felt in school, the answer...was frightening,” said Foley.

According to the report presented during their June 14 program standing committee meeting, trustees heard the results from a school climate survey showing one in five elementary students and one in four secondary students reported not feeling safe at school.

Following the results of the survey, Foley said he reached out to parents, students, teachers and community partners such as the Collingwood/Blue Mountains OPP.

“The responses from these partners is there has been a monumental increase of violence in our schools,” he said.

For the 2021/22 school year, the SCDSB reported a total of 122 violent incidents to the Ministry of Education under the provincial definition across the 87 elementary schools and 15 secondary schools within its purview.

The Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board reported seven violent incidents to the ministry in the 2021/22 school year across their 42 elementary and nine secondary schools.

Data for 2022/23 is not yet available publicly.

“Without knowledge and current data, there can be no effective governance,” said Foley. “My request is asking for a detailed report on violence in our schools and what can be done to make students, staff and visitors feel safer.”

Barrie trustee Lisa-Marie Wilson and New Tecumseth trustee Sarah Beitz both spoke in support.

“We know violence is increasing. I think it’s important we have this report so we can plan on what we can do,” said Wilson.

“The more information we have, the better,” said Beitz. “I find it odd we’re not already tallying it up to get a better idea of what’s happening in our schools.”

Director of Education John Dance called violence in schools “prominent,” but pointed to the issue of definitions.

The province, the Criminal Code of Canada (and the Youth Criminal Justice Act) and the school board all define violence differently, which can make reporting clear numbers on violent incidents difficult.

Since 2011, school boards across Ontario have been required to report violent incidents to the Ministry of Education annually.

Violent incidents are defined by the province as possessing a weapon (including possessing a firearm), physical assault causing bodily harm requiring medical attention, sexual assault, robbery, using a weapon to cause or to threaten bodily harm to another person, extortion and hate/bias-motivated occurrences.

According to the SCDSB, violent incidents can also include incidents where no one was harmed or required medical attention. Those incidents may still be dealt with by school administration through suspension, detention or expulsion, but are not required to be reported to the province.

Under the Criminal Code of Canada, assault is defined as the intentional application of force without consent, attempting or threatening to apply force, or accosting or impeding another person while openly carrying a weapon or an imitation thereof. Extortion, hate/bias motivated occurrences and threatening bodily harm may not rise to a level of ‘violence’ under the code.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Orillia/Severn/Ramara trustee and chair Jodi Lloyd asked Dance how the board defines assault.

“This is really important if we want to get the right data. Is an aggressive incident from a student, maybe a student with an exceptionality, does that fall within the definition of assault?” asked Lloyd.

“Based on (provincial) definitions through the Education Act, no, it would not,” Dance responded.

Dance shared concern about the confidentiality of students through the report, in instances where there is only one incident at a school all year.

“We can meet the needs as outlined (here), but I will always be concerned that any data that comes forward could identify an individual student,” said Dance.

Foley disagreed with Dance’s assessment.

“In previous boards I’ve worked in, we were able to maintain confidentiality while addressing numbers and concerns. We need to be more transparent,” said Foley.

“What I’m concerned with is, what’s happening, where it’s happening, and what are we doing about it? Time is of the essence. People are getting hurt.”

At the end of discussions, trustees voted unanimously in favour of having board staff provide a report on 2022/23 violent incidents in SCDSB schools no later than December 2023, and annual reports on violent incidents each school year moving forward.

For our full story outlining the issue of violence in Simcoe County schools, click here.

Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen is an experienced journalist working for Village Media since 2018, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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