Proposed changes to Ontario's Education Act announced Tuesday are designed to stop students from posting online attacks against other students or teachers.

At a news conference atQueen's Park, Education Minister Kathleen Wynne said the revamped act will add cyber-bullying to the list of offences for which students can be suspended or expelled from school.

"These amendments would ensure thatthere are strong consequences for inappropriate behaviour, and provide programs so students can earn their way back into the classroom and complete their education," she said.

Ontario Teachers' Federation President Hilda Watkins issued a news release Tuesday lauding the announcement.

"Yesterday's tragedy at Virginia Tech has everyone thinking about students and their safety at school," Watkins said.

"Teachers in Ontario are happy that the proposed legislation includes bullying, cyber-bullying and bullying of teachers as an infraction that could lead to suspension and/or expulsion. This behaviour is unfortunately spreading especially in cyberspace."

Wynne also announced the zero-tolerance provisions in the act will be eliminated and replaced with what she calls "a stronger and more rational approach to discipline."

Themove follows last week's settlement between the ministry and the province's human rights commission. In the settlement, the province agreed to change its zero-tolerance approach to delinquent students.

The agreement was the result of a complaint, launched on behalf of students by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, alleging the strict safe schools policy was having a "disproportionate impact on racial-minority students and students with disabilities."

The controversial safe schools policy has been criticized for its strict approach to disciplining students with suspensions and expulsions.

A government review found problems with the act, including wide-ranging rates of suspensions and expulsions among schools across the province. It also found some groups were seen to be more likely to be suspended or expelled than others.

Schools told to consider mitigating factors

Provincial officials said in agovernment news release thatthe proposed changes to the act will allow for "a progressive discipline approach" when deciding on a course of action in the case of inappropriate student behaviour.

The proposed changes unveiled Tuesday also replace mandatory suspensions and expulsions for students (except in limited circumstances), with the requirement that principals and school boards consider and respond to all infractions in the most appropriate way. That means school officials must consider mitigating factors before students are suspended or expelled.

"A one-size-fits-all approach does not work when it comes to student safety and discipline," Wynne said.

The government saidit has set aside $31 million annually, beginning in 2007-2008, to make Ontario's schools safer.

This includes $23 million to provide programs for expelled students and those on long-term suspension. The province will also provide training to principals and vice-principals on ways to apply discipline in a non-discriminatory manner.

With files by the Canadian Press