Toronto

Ontario schools to ease zero-tolerance rules

Ontario plans to soften its approach to delinquent students with changes to its zero-tolerance Safe Schools Act before the next school year begins.

Ontario plans tosoften itsapproachto delinquent students with changes to its zero-tolerance Safe Schools Act before the next school year begins.

Education Minister Kathleen Wynne said that later this month the Liberal government will introduce changes to thelegislation enacted in2001 by the Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris.

The act has long been criticized for overly harsh discipline and for unfairly targeting students who are minorities, even sparking complaints to the province's human rights commission.

"We need to be providing programs for kids and support for kids that keep them in school," Wynne told CBC News Tuesday.

It doesn't make sense to expel students onto the street without trying to help them reintegrate into the classroom, said Wynne.

Under the changes, she says school boards would get more cash to run programs and offer support to delinquent youth.

Changes are expected to include progressive discipline alternatives such as mediation, restorative justice and counselling.

"The emphasis will be steering away from suspensions and expulsions and promoting alternatives," said Eric Roher, a lawyer consulted by the Toronto District School Board.

The Safe Schools Act,as it stands, outlinesstrict rules and consequences, with mandatory suspensions and expulsions handed out as a solution to students breaking the rules.

"I think we should be looking at kids as individuals," said Martha MacKinnon, executive director of Justice for Children and Youth,a legal aid clinic acting on the behalf of young people.

For the past six years, she says the act has treated discipline like a recipe for cooking meat.

"It looked sort of like a meat chart— if you do this, then automatically that will follow," said MacKinnon.

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