Hamilton

Changes and reviews were promised after Devan Selvey's death, here's what's happened

After Devan's death, Hamilton's public school board set up a panel to review how it handles bullying. The province also announced changes to fight bullying. A year later, on the anniversary of Devan's death, CBC is checking in on the progress made and what still needs to happen.

'No family needs to go through this again,' says Devan's mother, Shari-Ann

Photos of Devan Selvey sit among stuffed animals, flowers and messages of support at a makeshift memorial outside the 14-year-old's Hamilton home following his death on Oct. 7, 2019. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

A moment of silence will be held at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School today.

Another was held Tuesday, both marking the death of Devan Selvey.

The 14-year-old was killed behind the school on Oct. 7, 2019. He died in his mother's arms.

Following Devan's death, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) pledged a third-party investigation and created an independent panel to review how it handles bullying.

The provincial government also announced new measures to fight bullying in schools.

A year later, on the anniversary of Devan's death, CBC is checking in on the progress that's been made and what still needs to happen.

School board investigation delayed

HWDSB director of education, Manny Figueiredo, said Oct. 7 is a date that will be "difficult for many."

Social workers will be at Churchill today to support students and a message reflecting on the one-year anniversary of Devan's death has been shared with staff.

"Over the past year, we have taken significant steps to further our commitment to build caring learning environments in our schools," Figueiredo wrote in a statement.

Staff have been taking part in extra bullying prevention training since last November and the board has increased mental health supports, according to the director.

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board director of education, Manny Figueiredo, and chair Alex Johnstone speak with media before the meeting where the board voted in favour of setting up a bullying review panel. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Students are also more aware of the board's anonymous reporting app — HWDSB Helps, he added.

In the days after Devan's death, the board announced it would carry out its own, third-party investigation into what happened.

But in March announced it would be delayed, citing a civil lawsuit.

A spokesperson for the board said Tuesday that the investigation remains delayed until after all legal proceedings are complete.

Shawn McKillop said the HWDSB is also awaiting the results of the bullying review panel.

"The lasting outcomes that will come from that report, locally and provincially, will always be connected with Devan's legacy," he said.

Panel to report in December

The Safe Schools: Bullying Prevention and Intervention Review Panel was announced on Nov. 12, 2019 and charged with investigating how the board addresses four areas of bullying — prevention, intervention, reporting and responding.

Brenda Flaherty, a member of the three-person panel, said it's completed 26 public and stakeholder consultations to date, many of which were aimed at hearing from specific communities including Black, Muslim and LGBTQ students and families.

One more session for the Indigenous community has yet to take place, but will be scheduled for mid-October, she said.

A final report from the panel was initially expected to be shared with the HWDSB and the public by May 2020.

However, in April the board announced consultations would be delayed because of COVID-19. The remaining sessions took place virtually and Flaherty said a final report is expected by the end of the year.

"Without a doubt there's a commitment to ensure that we get this report done by December as this is very, very important for the wellbeing of our students," she said.

A crowd of about 90 people came out for the first of 15 bullying review panel sessions. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The panel released an interim report in May, which provided some background, statistics and more than two dozen themes based on the consultations, but offered few specifics and did not provide any source or methodology for the data included.

Flaherty noted bullying is a societal issue and said the panel's work is ongoing. A survey is set to be released to students, caregivers and families following Thanksgiving and the panelists are turning their minds toward recommendations.

"The tragic death of Devan and the impact on the family and their friends and the community will never be forgotten," she said.

"It's our hope as a panel that the community and the board and the schools will embrace these recommendations and ensure it is a priority not only in the short-term but in the long-term."

Provincial changes

When he announced new measures aimed at fighting bullying in schools back in November, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, pointed to Devan's death as one of the driving factors.

"That story among others, really motivated the government to take immediate action," he said at the time.

The minister said he would introduce steps to tackle violence, including training teachers in de-escalation techniques and asking Scarborough Centre MPP Christina Mitas to advise him.

"We're going to be looking at how we can improve the safety of children so that there's no more examples, so that there's no more victims," Lecce said. "Especially for the young man cited in Hamilton and for so many others in the province that feel isolated as a consequence of not having those supports in place."

The province also pledged to survey students about bullying, review school reporting practices on violence, and review the definition of bullying in Education Ministry policies.

In a statement to CBC, the minister's spokesperson, Caitlin Clark, said the province has "dramatically improved and mandated training of all staff on safety and anti-bullying" and invested millions in mental health supports.

"Over 15,000 Ontarians shared their story in a province-wide survey we conducted to better understand the challenges," she wrote. "We know there is more to do, as we work hard to confront bullying and discrimination in our schools, in all of its heinous forms."

Family's hope

The message from Shari-Ann Selvey, Devan's mother, has remained the same since the day he was killed: "It can't happen again. No family needs to go through this again."

She fears her son will be forgotten and the changes promised after he was killed won't happen.

Shari-Ann Selvey wears a dolphin pendant with her son Devan's ashes. The 14-year-old was fatally stabbed outside Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School on Oct. 7. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

School should be a place where kids feel protected, Shari-Ann said, and in order for that to be true the school board needs to actually implement the recommendations from the review panel, not just give them lip-service.

"I'm a big believer [that] if you say it's going to happen it should happen," she said. "Not just say it so you appease people. It needs to be stronger than that in order for kids to feel safe."

About the Author

Dan Taekema is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: daniel.taekema@cbc.ca

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