October 5, 2018
For immediate release
RE: PANSOW calls for action by the Department of Education on sexual violence
Last year, allegations of sexual assault by a student resulted in legislative changes to the Schools Act, 1997, which came into effect on September 1, 2018. It provides the Director of Education with the authority to refuse to admit a student on school property where it is his/her opinion that the presence of the student is detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of students or staff. It was announced that polices were forthcoming based on these changes and to address sexual violence in our schools. However, in recent weeks, allegations of sexual assault at another school have come forward and highlighted the lack of movement on these promises.
The Provincial Action Network on the Status of Women believes that a holistic and trauma informed approach is needed that addresses the need for safety during transportation to and from school, during school, and while involved in extracurricular school activities. This requires changes in policy and practice that address the physical and psychological safety needs of students and staff. Trauma can impact an individual’s ability to acquire new knowledge and to retrieve stored information, thereby impacting the ability to learn. Creating safety is paramount in helping individuals regain a sense of control and concentrate.
Measures that address safety on buses may include the use of bus monitors, paid or volunteer, to assist with the supervision of students or cameras. School buses can accommodate up to 72 passengers; far too many for a single driver to monitor while also having to tend to the duties of driving and following the rules of the road. Cameras may provide legal evidence of the behaviours and actions that are occurring that are not observable by the driver.
During the school day, it is important to provide supports in terms of guidance and psychological services for those impacted by trauma and its impacts on daily activities. In addition, accommodations, short or long term, may be required to help students remain in school and complete their curriculum. This will be best determined by consulting with the student, their family and any professional supports they are using to assist with their recovery.
Policy and procedures for extracurricular activities should be reviewed and updated and ensure that they provide adequate supervision for all students. The procedures for reporting incidents need to be clear and reflect the serious nature of the trauma a student may experience.
To create systemic change in how we identify and intervene when violence occurs can only happen with changes to the curriculum. Curriculum changes that focus on healthy relationships, boundary setting and consent can create a safe and more inclusive learning environment and help us ensure students lead vibrant and healthy lives. Professional development training in trauma informed practice is also necessary for all employees to ensure early detection and response, and to create supportive environments for all involved with teaching and shaping the minds of our children and youth.
PANSOW is available for consultation in creating these necessary changes as we have experience in providing both front line support to individuals impacted by sexual violence and in policy development. Changes are needed now and we cannot wait for more students and families to be left in limbo.
Paula Sheppard Thibeau
Corner Brook Status of Women Council
Bay St. George Status of Women Council
The Provincial Action Network on the Status of Women (PANSOW) is a grassroots, feminist, and non-partisan network which gives a provincial voice on the issues facing the Status of Women in Newfoundland and Labrador. PANSOW consists of all eight Status of Women Councils in Newfoundland and Labrador.