Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Keeping Our Schools Safe

Living where I do, there are times when things happen that totally escape the local news. It takes a visit back home to get a taste of what is really happening out there. Of course it helps when you hear from sources to close to what is happening. What I'm talking about is the L'affair Burge that seemed to have become quite a tempest in a teapot in the city of Windsor. I was pointed to the article in the Windsor Star regarding a certain student of Kennedy Collegiate and some of her musings on Facebook.

I'm not going to get involved in a discussion what she said and whether or not everything done to her was appropriate. Enough has been said already and I can't add anything new. However, what did get my interest was the comment regarding the Ontario Safe School Act, this is the piece of legislation that was used to justify her suspension. In fact a lot said in the Windsor Star article got me looking up that interesting act.

The purpose of this act is:
A safe school enables learning and teaching within an environment that fosters responsibility, respect and academic excellence.

Now this is a sound and great ideal. Seriously it is, a student who feels safe in their school will be relaxed and will enjoy learning. As we read more and more about bullying, it makes sense.

The broad purpose of the Act is to establish guidelines and policies for school and school boards. The Act opens with this:
The Minister may establish a code
of conduct governing the behaviour of all persons in schools.
(2) The following are the purposes of the
code of conduct:
1. To ensure that all members of the
school community, especially people in
positions of authority, are treated with
respect and dignity.
2. To promote responsible citizenship by
encouraging appropriate participation in
the civic life of the school community.
3. To maintain an environment where conflict and difference can be addressed in
a manner characterized by respect and civility.
4. To encourage the use of non-violent means to resolve conflict.
5. To promote the safety of people in the schools.
6. To discourage the use of alcohol and
illegal drugs.

No one could disagree with such an act and it is good the Ministry recognizes and encourages local boards and school to articulate this Act for the local purpose and keep within the guidelines of the Act. There is also a great deal given to the purpose of discipline and suspension.

Then I came across this part of the article:
Public school board spokesman Scott Scantlebury said any actions by pupils, including “inappropriate” Facebook posts, that are deemed to negatively affect “the moral tone of a school” can, under Ontario’s Safe Schools Act, be dealt with by a suspension.

When it comes to a school’s code of conduct, Scantlebury said that, “as with the law, ignorance is not an excuse.”

Now it becomes interesting, perhaps someone should share a copy of the act with Mr. Scantlebury, because it says this about ignorance of the law:
Every board shall take such steps as the Minister directs to bring the code of conduct to the attention of pupils, parents and guardians of pupils and others who may be present in schools under the jurisdiction of the board

So Mr. Scantlebury seems not to be aware of the fact that it is his duty to help the students understand what is expected of them while in school. It appears the 'moral tone of a school', is one of those catchphrases that can mean whatever the administration wants it to mean. One of those policies that make everyone guilty and its only a matter of time before the trigger gets pulled on any student. I'm going to try to avoid the original issue, but I have to ask the question where students made aware of the fact that what they publish on social media sites such as Facebook may come back and bite them big time.

I went to the policy of the GECDSB website and look up some articles. In the article listed POLICY: Safe Schools, it has this in one paragraph:
In order to promote safe and inclusive environments, all schools, schoolsponsored activities, Board properties and Board-sponsored activities must be free from conduct which infringes upon the rights of others or endangers people or property. All pupils, parents, teachers, staff, volunteers and community members have the right to be and feel safe. With this right comes the responsibility to be law-abiding citizens, to be accountable for one’s actions, and to protect the rights of others. These responsibilities also include appropriate use of technology and responsible behaviour in other activities both on and off the school property which may affect the school climate. Such activities shall not negatively impact the climate of the school or members of the school community

I realize the comment on technology could cover the issue, but there is nothing said more about it. I understand that we need to be aware of what we do publish online may have negative consequences, it is something that should be stressed. As an aside one person has observed as more people use social media, the more likely our society may become more forgiving of the peccadilloes of personal life. Right now we have stories of people being refused jobs because what people are finding on Facebook and no doubt the people making that decision are thinking to themselves how fortunate they are to have lived in a time when photographs of them downing a kegger simply don't exist.

So when the vice principal showed her a print-out of her article and suspended her, he or she was acting in accordance of the Act and Policy. However she was told she had 'brought' her work into the schoolyard. Had she decided to become the Thomas Paine of KCI? Did she become a pamphleteer, passing out copies of her missive to students?

Understand this, tolerance and acceptance of diversity is good, however what is the message coming to the students? Does the GECDSB want to develop law-abiding citizens who would feel right at home in the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea?

The Act does allow for a review of the decision of suspension:
The following persons may request a review of a decision to suspend a
pupil, other than a decision to suspend a pupil
for one day or less:
1. If the pupil is a minor, his or her parent
or guardian.
2. If the pupil is not a minor, the pupil.
3. Such other persons as may be specified
in a policy of the board.

Did this happen?

Schools are different, the challenges are now huge and certainly resources that allow schools to operate in a proper way that protects both students and staff is important. I will never disagree with that ideal. However I have to wonder if the zeal for protection rights are trampled on. There is a difference between dignity and diversity and indoctrination and intimidation.

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