Hamilton school board will set up 3-person panel to review bullying after student death
Devan Bracci-Selvey was killed in front of his mother on Oct. 7
The mother of a Hamilton 14-year-old who was fatally stabbed outside his high school says the school board's plan to review how it handles bullying will only be worthwhile if it brings change that saves another child from the same fate as her son.
Shari-Ann Selvey was outside Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School on Oct. 7, trying to help her son Devan Bracci-Selvey, when he was killed in front of her. Investigators say he died in her arms.
On Monday evening she sat in the front row of a packed room during the first Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) meeting since her son's death, wiping away tears and leaning on those next to her for support.
"I want them to follow through with it and for them to make a difference," said Selvey before the meeting. "I don't want this to happen to another kid."
Selvey left the meeting upset. Supporters say she was disappointed she didn't get a chance to speak.
In the end, trustees voted unanimously in favour of setting up an independent, three-person panel that will review the board's approach to four areas around bullying — prevention, intervention, reporting and responding.
The board's decision followed a report prepared by director of education Manny Figueiredo, who recommended community members with skills and knowledge in areas including equity and mental health lead a review of how the board deals with bullying incidents.
The panelists will organize sessions based around specific questions, then gather input from groups including students, parents or caregivers and community partners.
It's not yet clear who will make up the panel, but Figueiredo said one thing that was important to him is that they be from Hamilton and have some knowledge of how the school board works.
Before the meeting began, HWDSB chair Alex Johnstone described Devan's death as the result of a "senseless act of violence" that has rocked the school community.
She added the board knows it must do more to protect children.
"We need to do better. Bullying is complicated," she said. "It is extremely serious and it is rampant in our society."
The chair also called the stabbing "devastating," saying "our hearts go out to Devan's family."
But despite that sentiment, some in attendance said they felt board should be doing more to support the family.
Keven Ellis, of the 999 Legion of Child Rights, organized a vigil at the school after Devan's death. He said he came to the meeting with Selvey and other parents of bullied children, believing they would have a chance to be heard and call for accountability from someone in the school system.
"They've been silenced in the schools and they've been silenced here tonight," said Ellis, adding he believes the board's plan is just a "band-aid" meant to placate the public until the issue blows over.
Selvey did not speak to media after she left the meeting.
Ellis spoke on her behalf, saying she hadn't heard from the HWDSB since her son's death and that Selvey believes the board just wants it to go away.
"She wanted to have an answer for what would happen today, to protect the next child, to make sure another Devan doesn't appear," he added.
A spokesperson for the HWDSB did not immediately respond to a request for comment asking how Selvey and Ellis had been left with the impression they might be able to speak during the meeting.
14-year-old and 18-year-old charged with murder
Selvey previously said her son had been bullied since the second day of school and that the family had reported the abuse to police and the school board.
Both the HWDSB and investigators have acknowledged they received reports of Devan being bullied and police are considering bullying as they continue to investigate.
Two brothers, an 18-year-old and 14-year-old, are charged with first-degree murder. Police allege the 14-year-old is the person who stabbed Devan.
During Monday's meeting Figueiredo estimated the board's bullying review will cost between $100,000 and $150,000.
"It really doesn't matter what this costs. It's just too darn important not to do it," said trustee Ray Mulholland, whose ward includes Sir Winston Churchill. His response was met with applause from some in the gallery.
While she feels anger about her son's death, Selvey said she's trying to hold it together so she can focus on being a voice for Devan.
"The last few weeks have been absolute hell and I just, I just wish he was still here," she said, breaking into tears.