HWDSB dedicating PA day to training staff to address bullying

On Nov. 29, while most teachers across the province sit down for a PA day dedicated to teaching math and ways to boost test scores, staff with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) will be focused on bullying.

Initiatives include mandatory meeting for principals and resources for families

Manny Figueiredo, director of eduction for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board says a PA day on Nov. 29 will focus training to address bullying. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

On Nov. 29, while most teachers across the province sit down for a PA day dedicated to teaching math and ways to boost test scores, staff with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) will be focused on bullying.

The plan was for teachers will the local board to be dealing with math that day too, but following the death of Devan Selvey, board chair Manny Figueiredo said he contacted the ministry and asked for approval to switch to an agenda built around relationships, caring adults and addressing bullying.

"If we don't get to the climate, the conditions and the caring adult piece math doesn't matter," he explained.

"This has surfaced in our community in light of this tragic event. We've asked to repurpose this PA day and the ministry said 'Absolutely you do what you need to do for your community.'"

Selvey, 14, was stabbed to death by another student outside Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School on Sept. 7.

His death kick started conversations around bullying and the board and led to HWDSB trustees voting unanimously in favour of an independent panel that will review its approach to bullying by looking at four areas — prevention, intervention, reporting and responding.

That three-person panel is expected to work with students, caregivers and community partners before reporting back to the board and public by the end of May 2020. But some have questioned what the HWDSB is doing to take on bullying in the meantime.

Figueiredo said that's where the PA meeting comes in, along with several other new initiatives and supports the board will roll out during Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week starting Monday.

HWDSB unanimously approved a plan to set up a three-person panel to review its anti-bullying policies. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The new measures are meant to make sure all students feel safe and accepted, according to the chair, who added the board is committed to learning and working on improving its anti-bullying approach.

They include take home resources for families, a mandatory meeting for principals and vice-principals about bullying and "Emotion Coaching" training for staff to help students handle stress.

Bullying awareness week runs from Nov. 18 to 22. Here's a look at what the board has planned:

  • A dedicated website where all guides and supports for bullying prevention and intervention will be available.
  • "Emotion Coaching" training for all staff. The board describes it as a method to help "students self-regulate and gain skills to use when feeling challenged."
  • A full-day meeting of principals and vice-principals focused on bullying.
  • A new educational awareness package for parents, including a fridge magnet and postcard, providing advice and information on how to report bullying.
  • Classroom activities during the week that will focus on different aspects of bullying prevention and intervention each day.
  • Students will be walked through how to use the HWDSB Helps app, an anonymous way for students to reach out for help using text, web and app conversations. The board says the app will be installed on all student iPads and linked on the HWDSB student learning platform online.
  • The PA Day for all teachers on Nov. 29 will be dedicated to "Relationships, Caring/Important Adults and Addressing Bullying."
  • A parent conference on Safe Schools policies will also take place in early 2020.

Figueiredo said the board always intended to work on making sure students feel they have an adult they trust at school, but community concerns about bullying following the stabbing pushed staff to find a way to have that conversation sooner.

The board will look at covering the math-related material it was supposed to consider during the PA day during another development day in March.

One of the board's main priorities in the coming weeks will be in reaction to the 2017/2018 student survey which showed 55 per cent of students from Grade 4-6 could identify a caring adult at school, said Figueiredo. That number dropped to 40 per cent when it came to students in Grades 7-12.

"When you present that to staff you can imagine people saying 'Are you kidding me? We all care about kids," said the chair. But while adults often try to solve issues an important first step is to listen and validate what students are saying, he explained.

Training for staff will feature tough conversations and questions about the type of behaviour that makes someone a bully, including adults, Figueiredo added.

"They're not always positive conversations as you can imagine, but we all have to have them."