HWDSB bullying review panel to host 20 consultation sessions starting in 2020

The panel charged with reviewing how the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board handles bullying will host at least 20 sessions with students, parents and staff starting in the new year.

Devan Selvey's mother called on board to talk to parents, students

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board says community consultations about bullying are set to begin in the new year. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The panel charged with reviewing how the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) handles bullying will host at least 20 consultation sessions with groups including students, parents and staff starting in the new year.

The plan for extensive consultation is one of the reasons the board Monday extended the panel's deadline to Sept. 30, from May.

A timeline and details of the panel's approach is outlined in an executive report being presented to the board during its meeting Monday night.

The sessions are set to begin in January and include five general meetings that will bring together parents, students, staff and community members.

There are also five session set aside for working with specific populations whose "voices that are less likely heard" such as racialized or marginalized students and parents, in order to "obtain authentic and constructive recommendations."

Three sessions involving community partners will take place, with one each for the Mountain, Lower City Inner/East and the Lower City/West.

The report states the "true spirit of engagement" means a process involving consultation that ensures "voices are heard of victims of bullying, as well as those using bullying behaviour."

Panel to report back by end September

Board chair Alex Johnstone, said in a statement the panel's extended timeline would not get in the way of board action and that it will receive an interim report in May.

"We will not wait to implement changes on revelations that come forward as a result of the public consultation – we will act immediately on emerging themes."

The panel, which is made up of independent community members along with a consulting firm, was created following the death of Devan Selvey, a 14-year-old who was fatally stabbed behind Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School.

A 14-year-old is charged with first-degree murder. His 18-year-old brother faces charges including assault with a weapon.

It will look at four areas around bullying: prevention, intervention, reporting and responding.

The board says its expectation is that at two of three panel members will be present at each engagement session where they will dig into the root causes of bullying and analyze information and data that's gathered.

Here's a look at the timeline included in the report:

  • Dec. 2019: A draft communication plan will be created and and on-line survey question will be developed.
  • Jan. 2020: The panel will meet with the student senate to talk about the consultation process and collect student voices. The online survey will be launched and engagement sessions will begin.
  • Feb. 2020: Engagement sessions continue.
  • March 2020: Sessions continue and a report to the board will provide an update on panel's work so far.
  • April 2020: Data collection will be finalized and the report writing begins, along with recommendations. The report will be shared with stakeholders to get their feedback before it's finalized.
  • May 2020: The report will be presented to the board.

People can also participate online, according to the report, which adds the panel will be able to engage with other groups that might not be listed, or consult with the same parties a second time to get more input.

The public will be consulted and will be able provide feedback on the recommendations, said the report.

Shari-Anne Selvey, Devan's mother, specifically called for parents and students dealing first-hand with bullying.

Shari-Ann Selvey, Devan's mother, brushes away a tear during a meeting where the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board decided to proceed with a plan for a three-person panel to look into bullying. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

In a statement she said her hope is that the review will lead to a place where families affected don't have to go through such pain. 

"It's unbelievable to me that it took the death of Devan for the Hamilton board of education to finally act, hopefully once and for all, to put an end to bullying in schools," she wrote. "No other parent, no other family, should have to experience the grief and sorrow our family is going through right now."