A London-area school board is beefing up anti-bullying staff training and running workshops for parents after a recent court ruling on a stabbing case involving students and an increase in students who don’t feel connected with peers.
A 17-year-old, whose name is protected because he’s a minor, was charged with two counts of aggravated assault after two males, both age 16 at the time, were stabbed in a forest near A.B. Lucas secondary school on Sept. 14, 2022.
The teenager, who received a conditional discharge earlier this month, was bullied, beaten up and forced to beg for mercy from the two teens prior to the stabbing, his lawyer said.
Dennis Wright, superintendent of student achievement, said the board is doubling down on bullying based on results found in a student climate survey that found “post pandemic there has been a little bit of a uptick in lack of connection with peers.
“For example, our school year had a relationship-based start,” he said. “Every classroom spent time building connections and relationships between students and staff and continued that through outreach to include families and caregivers, as well.”
The board is offering three online workshops next week for parents to learn about restorative practices, how to combat cyberbullying and bullying prevention, Wright said.
For more information about those workshops go to google.com/gotvdsb.ca/familiescaregiversworkshops/upcoming-events.
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Grant Wilson, president of the Canadian Children’s Rights Council, a nonprofit advocacy organization that supports the rights of children, praised the board for surveying its students but thinks more of a focus needs to go to regulating screen time to deal with many student problems including bullying.
“The bottom line is we need to re-evaluate screen time in general. Some schools won’t allow you to bring your cellphones to school,” he said. “One of the biggest problems is social media.”
In Quebec, the education ministry is banning cellphones from public elementary and high school classrooms at the end of 2023, due to the distraction they present to students.
Too much screen time, according to studies, is damaging to children, Wilson said
“It’s keeping them in a world of non-intellectual stimulus and that’s damaging their development.”
A study released by Western University in August found every minute a child spends on screens beyond the recommended two-hour limit is linked to higher levels of depression and anxiety.
Bill Tucker, a professor in the education faculty at Western University and a former Thames Valley director of education, also draws a link between bullying and social media.
“Social media has made it a much harder malaise to deal with both from a parental and educational point of view,” he said. “Bullying is a community problem, not just a school’s concern, and anything that can be done to partner with parents and . . . community agencies is a welcome effort.”
Wright said Thames Valley teachers are being provided with resources and lesson plans about “what is bullying, what we can we do about it.”
“I sent an email out to every single teaching staff member in Thames Valley with all of the resources so I could ensure there were no barriers to accessing the information,” he said.
As well, administrators are learning how to respond if a child, parent or community member comes forward with an allegation of bullying, Wright said.
“(They learn) how to investigate, how to support students and support kids who are acting out,” Wright said. “(They’re learning) how to use restorative practice to restore and repair relationships and how to look at other angles to bullying including racialized bullying.”
Every school website has a safe and inclusive school plan, Wright said.
“They also offer anonymous reporting on the school’s website,” he said.
About 1,500 staff members have been trained on restorative practices and another 1,000 will be trained this year, Wright said.