School board responds to reports of violence at Saunders Secondary
The Thames Valley District School Board reacts after Saunders' staff and students say they don't feel safe
CBC News reported this week that a number of students and staff at Saunders Secondary School are concerned for their safety, citing recent violent incidents at the school. You can read that story here:
Today, Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) Superintendent of Special Education, Andrew Canham and TVDSB Student Mental Health Lead, Kathryn Lambert joined London Morning Host Rebecca Zandbergen with more. Here is a transcript of that interview.
RZ: What's going on at Saunders?
AC: Saunders is a very large and complex school. It is the fifth-largest school in the province and the largest in southwestern Ontario. We've had a number of incidents that have occurred at the school. But as a school board, we continue to provide wraparound supports and services to the staff and to the students at the school.
RZ: How do you respond then, when you hear the students say they don't feel safe?
AC: The Thames Valley District School Board is committed to providing safe and equitable learning environments in all of our schools, and we work toward creating spaces where staff and students feel safe and welcomed. Statistics show that the incidents that have occurred at this particular school are no different than some of the other schools within our district and across the entire province.
RZ: You're telling me what you've prepared to say, but the fact is some teachers and students do not feel safe, regardless of what's happening across the province. How do you respond?
AC: The story that was published did raise some very legitimate concerns about incidents and issues that have occurred throughout the course of this year. Unfortunately, though, it contained numerous inaccuracies and exaggeration. Speaking specifically to the number of police calls. These also include EMS calls where police would typically respond to support our EMS colleagues, as well as automobile accidents in the area. There were around ten calls related directly to student behaviour, and several of these calls were for students that had one or more exceptionalities.
RZ: When I reached out to police, the number they gave me — in response to calls to the school — was 28. I want to move now to Kathryn. How would you characterize the safety in the school?
KL: We know globally the pandemic has impacted the mental health and well-being of children and youth across the globe. They haven't been in-person consistently over the last couple of years. We understand the importance of youth feeling connected to their school community, and that creates safety as well. So our goal is definitely to work with all students, all families and our staff to create that sense of community. We really encourage any parent or student, if they're not feeling safe at school, to reach out to a caring adult and talk to them about what we could be doing and how it's impacting them. Because the last thing we want is our students not to feel safe or connected.
We're proactively increasing supports in a number of our secondary schools, providing additional professional learning to our staff so that they understand the impact this pandemic has had on the social and emotional development of our students, as well as understanding how, when we're stressed, those behaviours that we're seeing, which are very concerning, are coming from a place of a youth not being okay. And how do we wrap around that youth and that family to ensure that youth gets the support they need?
RZ: What happens when someone misbehaves? Is there a suspension? I understand there's a "turnaround room" for people to cool down. Describe what happens when there is an incident?
AC: As a board, we have a process for reviewing all of our incidents where student behaviour does not align with our code of conduct and potential outcomes from these reviews include updating our student safety plan, applying progressive discipline, which where appropriate, includes suspensions, potentially expulsions and consultations with safety specialists. We have a large and dynamic professional student services team that includes social workers, child and youth workers, behaviour analysts that are there to provide this wraparound support both to the student that is involved in the incident, but also, equally importantly to the other students and staff in the building that may have witnessed or been party to the incident that occurred at the school.
RZ: Is there a responsibility by the board to report when an incident happens? Does it go out to the school community?
AC: Absolutely. We do record that. We do report any violent incident to the Ministry of Education.
RZ: To the school community itself? Do parents know what's going on within the doors of the school?
AC: They do, in the sense that we have all of our administrators in each of our schools will often share information with parents to let them know that there was an incident at the school. In this particular case, there were communications that went out to the Saunders community, informing them that all of our students remained safe, but there was an unfortunate incident of behaviour at the school.
RZ: One of the things I'm hearing time and time again from teachers is that they want to talk to me anonymously, for fear that the repercussions they would face from the board would jeopardize their careers. What would happen if someone were to speak to me on the record about their concerns?
AC: There are a couple of different mechanisms where employees can report if they're feeling unsafe. First of all, they are required by legislature through the safe schools reporting form to submit a form to our board that is reviewed by our abilities and wellness and our Safe Schools team. But we also have, in addition to that, an anonymous reporting tool, through our different union partners. So there is an ability for staff to report any time to us that they're not feeling safe.
Listen to the full interview here:
RZ: But speaking to the media, is that not allowed?
AC: Of course it's allowed. We would always encourage our employees to come to their direct supervisor and speak to them, because we want to be able to address these concerns and provide them with the support and services, whether it's through our own staff or our community partners or our employee wellness programs.
RZ: In the past, the school has worked with different communities within the school to tackle some of the violence. What can you tell me about that?
KL: The school is very proud of the work that they've done, especially to celebrate cultural diversity. And they've made tremendous progress in that space. There are partnerships with community organizations at various schools, including Saunders. And we're working on how do we empower our youth to really take the lead and youth leadership to promote healthy relationships and safe behaviours among themselves. Across the board, we have multiple partners coming in, both from our Indigenous partners, as well as partners that focus on supporting students in developing healthy relationships.