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‘F-minus': Trustee fails Simcoe County school violence report

'It was nothing I couldn't have figured out myself,' says Collingwood-Wasaga trustee, irked by lack of details provided by staff

Violence is increasing in local public schools this year, and trustees for the Simcoe County District School Board are unsatisfied with the board's reporting on violence.

At their regular board meeting on Dec. 20, trustees received a report on violence in Simcoe County schools, which was first requested by Collingwood/Wasaga Beach trustee Mike Foley through a motion passed unanimously at their meeting back in September.

According to the report presented last week, there were 159 violent incidents in the 2022-23 school year in Simcoe County public schools, which was up from 122 violent incidents reported by the board to CollingwoodToday in the 2021-22 school year.

However, Foley said he felt the report was a little light on details.

“I appreciate the work you’ve done, but I was very dismayed once I read your report. It was nothing I couldn’t have figured out myself,” said Foley.

Foley said he’s spoken to teachers who have shared they’re retiring early due to violence and lack of respect they feel at work. He reiterated that one in five elementary students and one in four secondary students reported not feeling safe at school in a climate survey completed by the board back in June.

He noted that trustees had asked for a detailed report on violence in schools back in September, which he felt wasn’t what was delivered.

“If this was an assignment, I’d give it an F-minus,” he said.

During their Sept. 27 regular board meeting, public board trustees voted in favour of having staff provide a report on violence in schools for the 2022/23 school year. The report was to 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 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 in schools 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 Simcoe County District School Board (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 and were not included in this report.

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.

The 159 violent incidents reported by the board to the Ministry of Education this year are broken down to 68 incidents of possessing a weapon including a firearm, 49 physical assaults requiring medical attention, 19 hate/bias-motivated occurrences and 21 incidents where a weapon was used to cause bodily harm. There were small numbers of other types of incidents recorded but not included in the breakdown, with the board noting that some individual incidents fell into multiple categories.

Of the 159 violent incidents this year in the public board, 77 per cent occurred in the secondary panel and 23 per cent in the elementary panel.

“The lack of transparency (and) co-operation toward our motion, I find troubling. This is not the report we asked for three months ago. Without knowledge or data, there can be no effective governance,” said Foley.

Midland/Penetanguishene/Tay/Tiny trustee Robin Talbot agreed.

“I think the report is generic at the very least,” said Talbot. “As a trustee, I need to understand what’s been happening in the schools.”

He referenced a recent violent incident near a Barrie high school.

“I was dismayed to hear in the media about (it). I didn’t hear anything at this table. We have no idea what is going on, but we’ll be held ultimately responsible,” said Talbot. “It’s not a matter of micromanaging. It’s a matter of me doing my job. I feel strongly (about this).”

Orillia/Severn/Ramara trustee and chair Jodi Lloyd clarified that once a weapon is involved in an incident, the jurisdiction is transferred from the school board to the police.

“The minister (of education) has been very clear to say what happens in the broader community eventually works its way into our school system. Many of these incidents are tied to mental health challenges,” said Lloyd. “I think there have been some very harsh comments here toward staff that I don’t necessarily think are justified.”

“They’ve given us a report with the numbers. They’ve done what we asked. This is why it’s vitally important when you introduce a motion that it is clear and articulate,” she said.

New Tecumseth trustee Sarah Beitz also noted confusion about the report.

“When I first looked at this report, I thought, these numbers don’t make any sense,” she said, adding that when compared to the suspension/expulsion report the board gets annually, the two reports both outline violent incidents but the numbers are drastically different. Under the suspension/expulsion report, Beitz said there have been 214 violent incidents this year. She said there had been 4,500 suspensions in the same time period.

“I don’t understand how we can have that many suspensions and only 159 violent incidents,” said Beitz.

Lloyd noted there are key differences between a suspension and a violent incident.

Student trustee Aalia Majid said, as a student, she appreciated that the report was general.

“It’s important to remember that asking for the level of detail you want risks compromising the safety and anonymity of the involved parties, especially the victims,” she said. “This will lead to more targeting from aggressors.”

Innisfil trustee Donna Armstrong asked if information on the specifics of violent incidents could be provided to trustees in-camera or confidentially.

“I think it would be helpful to note in...closed session if there have been violent events. We hear this in the media all the time, but they’re reporting on the police beat. We can’t control that,” she said.

Adjala-Tosorontio/Clearview/CFB Borden/Essa trustee Brandy Rafeek asked if staff could compare the numbers as a percentage, noting that enrolment at the board had also increased this year. According the staff, enrolment increased by 1,243 students this year, or by 2.3 per cent, while violent incidents increased by 30.3 per cent.

Back in July, Sarah Kekewich, manager of communications for the Simcoe County District School Board told CollingwoodToday that the board had provided all administrators and school social workers with violent threat risk assessment training in collaboration with the Simcoe County Catholic board in an effort to address the issue of violence in schools, which helps school administrators identify early risk factors that can point to future violent behaviour.

“[The] training provides a framework and the tools to assist teams in determining supports for students who are at high risk, assessing safety, and putting supports in place to reduce risk,” she said at that time.

She also noted the SCDSB approved increased funding through their 2023/24 budget for more staff to support student mental health.

Foley said at the Dec. 20 meeting that he would be requesting a more comprehensive report through a further motion which would include details on each incident such as location, which he put on the floor at the end of the meeting but was tabled by Barrie trustee Lynn Strachan to be brought back for consideration at a later date.

According to Foley’s motion passed back in September, the board will be required to provide a violence report annually each September moving forward.

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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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