PEI

School complaints process 'highly problematic,' says P.E.I. child advocate

P.E.I.'s child and youth advocate says students need a better way to have their complaints heard — one that allows for independence from the Public Schools Branch. 

Marvin Bernstein says student input needed, and independent third party should handle investigations

Marvin Bernstein, P.E.I.'s child and youth advocate, says students need to feel confident that their concerns are being taken seriously. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

P.E.I.'s child and youth advocate says students need a better way to have their complaints heard — one that allows for independence from the Public Schools Branch. 

Marvin Bernstein said the current process, which includes school staff, is "highly problematic" and potentially allows an alleged offender too much influence in a decision. 

An independent third-party body should handle investigations, he said.

"The kind of concerns that relate to sexual harassment, gender discrimination, offensive comments, sexual assaults, physical touching, this is very serious and it's gone on for far too long," he said.

"So we need to find a way to kind of address this and make sure that students feel empowered and feel confident that their concerns are being taken seriously and their voices matter."

Bernstein made the comments after two protests last week over allegations of sexual discrimination and harassment in Island schools.

Two protests were held last week calling for an end to harassment of girls in the school system. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

The office of the child and youth advocate opened just over a year ago.

Since then, Bernstein said he's been disappointed with engagement from both the Public Schools Branch and the Department of Education. 

He said a phone call from Education Minister Natalie Jameson after last week's protests was short, and there's been nothing since. 

The Public Schools Branch said it is looking at how to change its complaint procedure. 

In a statement to CBC News on Tuesday, it said it has reached out to the child and youth advocate, and will be meeting with students to get their input on how they feel the process should work.

The Department of Education and Lifelong Learning also released a statement calling the child and youth advocate "an important partner" in providing safe and supportive environments for youth. 

Bernstein said what matters most now is that action is taken. 

"I would like to see a meeting take place very soon. I'd like to talk about how we can engage students and parents and taking another look at the complaints review procedure," he said. 

"Because students have a right to access education in a way that is safe, in a way that's free from harassment and violence and that needs to be reflected more fully in those policy documents."

With files from Jessica Doria Brown

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