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School board trustees push for 10% reduction in school violence

Trustee hopes board motion a 'step in the right direction'
The Simcoe County District School Board Education Centre in Midhurst.

Some Simcoe County District School Board trustees are putting the pressure on board administration to do more to curb violence in Simcoe County public schools.

In a notice of motion put forward by Barrie trustee Lynn Strachan and seconded by Midland/Tiny/Tay/Penetanguishene trustee Robin Talbot at the board’s Jan. 31 meeting, trustees are pushing the board to commit to a 10 per cent reduction of violence in their schools. Through the motion to be considered at a future meeting, a new Safe Schools Committee would be formed with the goal of creating safer school environments.

“Staff and student safety is important to me. We need to have safe learning environments for students to do their best in school. Putting this motion forward for further discussion around the table is hopefully a step in the right direction,” Strachan told CollingwoodToday following the meeting.

A Safe Schools Committee would be tasked with developing strategies to address and reduce violence in schools to create safer school environments for students and staff.

The committee would include two trustees, one superintendent, one principal, three parents and representatives from four to six community organizations selected from the following: area police forces, the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Barrie Native Friendship Centre, Empower Simcoe, equity-seeking groups, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, the YMCA, education worker union representatives, justice organizations or victim services organizations.

If passed, the new committee would report back to the board through a standing committee, and the board of trustees, and the structure and work of the committee would be evaluated within 18 to 24 months.

“We have to strive for a reduction. We’ll hear back when the motion is debated, and we’ll hear from superintendents and the directors of education on whether they think that’s achievable, or if it should be more or less,” said Strachan. “I wanted to have some sort of element in the motion that outlined my desire to see violent incidents decrease.”

Back in December, SCDSB trustees received a report on violence in Simcoe County public schools. According to the report, there were 159 violent incidents in their schools in the 2022/23 school year, a 30.3 per cent increase over the previous year.

Simcoe County teachers' unions have said violent incident numbers are “under-reported” and “misleading” based on how the school board and province defines a violent incident.

Under the Ministry of Education’s definition, violent incidents include 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 and were not included in the school board's violent incident reporting.

Another notice of motion put forward at the Jan. 31 meeting by Collingwood/Wasaga Beach trustee Mike Foley called on school board staff to start notifying trustees of incidents of violent activity when police are called to respond. Notifications to trustees would be timely but confidential and would exclude names of students involved.

Both motions will be considered for discussion and debate next month.