Devan Selvey's mom urges HWDSB anti-bullying review panel to talk to families

Shari-Ann Selvey, mother of the teen killed outside a Hamilton high school, says that the panel selected by the HWDSB needs to talk with parents and students to develop real solutions for bullying.

Panelists include child psychiatrist, former Hamilton Health Sciences COO, and past professor

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 review of its bullying processes. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Shari-Ann Selvey is urging the people responsible for reviewing how the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board confronts bullying to talk to parents and students who are living those experiences. 

Selvey issued a statement after the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) named  the panelists who will be leading an independent review of how the board handles bullying.

Child psychiatrist Jean Clinton, former COO of Hamilton Health Sciences Brenda Flaherty, and former McMaster University professor Gary Warner will lead the review.  

The review was called for after Selvey's son, Devan Selvey, was stabbed to death by another student outside of Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School on Oct. 7. 

No other family should experience the grief

In a joint statement with Keven Ellis, founder of the 999th Legion for Child Rights, which works to help parents and children affected by bullying, Selvey says that talking to the people who have experienced bullying should be at the forefront.  

No other parent, no other family, should have to experience the grief and sorrow our family is going through right now."​​​​​​- Shari-Ann Selvey

According to Ellis and Selvey, while the qualifications, experience and professional backgrounds of the panelists seem solid, gathering information from Hamilton parents and students who have dealt with, or who are currently dealing with, bullying is imperative to the success of developing real world solutions. 

"There absolutely must be a mechanism in place to allow parents and students the opportunity to address the panel to express their frustrations with teachers, principals and school administrators who fail to address in any meaningful manner the issues of bullying, school by school, issue by issue," said Ellis. 

Selvey hopes that the review will lead to a place where families affected by bullying 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," said Selvey. "No other parent, no other family, should have to experience the grief and sorrow our family is going through right now."

Trustees voted unanimously in favour of setting up the panel, whose panelists the board described as a "specialized team with diverse backgrounds and significant experience in children's health and well-being, child psychology ... and an understanding of school board operations."

All eyes on Hamilton

Board chair Alex Johnstone says the panel will cast its net wide to engage with the community. The panelists, who Johnstone calls "expert coordinators," will gather lived experiences and recommendations, "especially from students themselves." 

"We want to hear from everyone," she said. "We want to hear from students, parents, staff, and the wider community."

And while the panel determines just exactly how they'll engage with people, Johnstone says the expectation is that the work will be done to provincial standards and offer various ways to participate, including "focus groups, community meetings, online surveys, [and] online submissions." There will likely be chances for people to give feedback throughout the process. 

Johnstone also added that the rest of the province will be tuning in to see how the review plays out. 

"We know that school boards, students, parents across Ontario are watching to see the process unfold here in Hamilton and what the recommendations will be," she said. "Bullying is complex and we see it throughout society: in our schools, online, in our workplaces, in the wider community...that is why everyone has a shared interest in doing better." 

The team of three community members is also joined by the KOJO institute — a consulting firm with experts in a variety of areas, including equity and human rights, and anti-racism. 

They are supported by four advisors and experts in bullying, mental health and special education, including: 

  • Barry Finlay, former director of special education for Ontario. 
  • Debra J. Pepler, a distinguished research professor of psychology at York University. 
  • Kathy Short, a clinical child psychologist and executive director for School Mental Health Ontario. 
  • Tracy Vaillancourt, a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in school-based mental health and violence prevention at the University of Ottawa.

The panel will focus on four areas, including bullying prevention, intervention, reporting and responding.

Johnstone explained that it was important to have a panel of independent experts in order to "safeguard" the integrity of the work and ensure the community's voice is heard.

"All of the individuals are Hamilton based, all of them are highly skilled, all of them bring diverse, professional backgrounds from outside education," she said. "Trustees and the board know how important it is to get this work right." 

Their report is expected to be completed and shared with the board and the public in May 2020. 

With files from Dan Taekema