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Board staff push back on trustees’ request for school safety data

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A request to take a deep dive into serious or violent incidents in schools – which sparked more than an hour of trustee debate – was temporarily sidelined by red tape having to do with student privacy issues.

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A request to take a deep dive into violent incidents at schools in the Thames Valley District school board – which sparked more than an hour of trustee debate – was temporarily sidelined by red tape over student privacy issues.

A motion put forth by London trustee Marianne Larsen at a board meeting Tuesday, seconded by Elgin County trustee Bruce Smith, requested data about school safety in 2022 and 2023 including the number of safe school incident reports and the number of students they represent, and the number of suspensions, expulsions and violent incidents, as defined by provincial policy, that occurred on school properties.

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As well, they asked for the number of times a student has been suspended during a school year.

“We are all committed to school safety, I am absolutely convinced of that,” Larsen said. “One way we can do that is to collect data on school safety, to find out what we are doing right, where we are succeeding and where there is room for improvement.

“Our decisions need to be data-informed.”

Under provincial legislation, every time there is an incident at a school where a suspension or expulsion could be considered, a safe school incident reporting form must be completed by a school staff member.

“In September 2022, these forms became electronic and thus provide an excellent source of data to understand school safety across the Thames Valley,” Larsen said.

Local union officials have reported a sharp rise in reported violence in London-area schools, in a post-COVID learning environment.

Most of the incidents – which occur across the entire Thames Valley region – took place in elementary schools, said Craig Smith, president of the Thames Valley district of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.

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“It’s beyond being a problem, we’re at a crisis point with this,” Smith has said.

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Safe school incident reporting forms are mandated by the Ministry of Education.

But Thames Valley administration balked at retrieving safe school incidents due “to inconsistencies with the safe school reporting data.”

“The concern with that is not all schools are applying this as consistently as they need to be for the data to be reliable across schools,” superintendent of student achievement Dennis Wright said.

He said later some schools never have made a safe school incident report.

“That is statistically impossible,” he said.

Thames Valley education director Mark Fisher said “much of the data being requested is not easily assessable, so it will require effort from the research and assessment department.

“This is a big ask for the majority of this data,” he said.

But Larsen said it “absolutely essential to get data on incident reports.

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“The only way we are going to know if our schools are safe or not is through those incident reports,” she said. “It is data this board needs to see. Suspension data alone doesn’t provide the full picture. ”

Ultimately the motion was postponed until the May board meeting until concerns over privacy violations of using the information – despite not containing any identifiable student information – for purposes it wasn’t intended are addressed.

Incidents are required by provincial policy to be reported to the Ministry of Education by school administration. A violent incident is defined as one or more of the following:

  • 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
  • Hate and/or bias-motivated occurrences

Activities leading to suspension include:

  • Possessing a weapon, including possessing a firearm
  • Using a weapon to cause or to threaten bodily harm to another person
  • Committing physical assault on another person that causes bodily harm requiring treatment by a medical practitioner
  • Committing sexual assault
  • Trafficking in weapons or in illegal drugs
  • Committing robbery
  • Giving alcohol to a minor

hrivers@postmedia.com

@HeatheratLFP

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