The results of an independent review of bullying at St. Michael’s College School have raised questions around the ability to control such issues at Ontario’s private schools.
The review calls bullying a “systemic” issue at the all-boys school. It said the issue is happening at a rate that hasn’t changed since the issue came to the forefront in November when seven students were charged. Charges against one of the students have since been dropped.
“I can’t believe anyone didn’t know about (the bullying) or wasn’t experiencing it or exposed to it,” said lawyer John Schuman. He attended St. Michael’s College School in the 1980s and said he both experienced and witnessed bullying there on multiple occasions.
Reading the report stemming from the review, Schuman said he finds himself underwhelmed.
“Nothing was particularly new,” he said, adding that most of the 36 recommendations seem to focus on measures already enforced upon publicly-funded schools governed by the Education Act.
“I was more sort of saddened that the school didn’t have a grasp on that already.”
Recommendations in the report included changes to policies and protocols, new codes of conduct, and anti-bullying training for staff — all guidelines similar to what Ontario’s public and Catholic schools already follow.
Still, the report admitted the frequency of bullying at St. Michael’s College School is comparable to that experienced by other kids in the same age range across Canada. But educator Charles Pascal said there is a key difference: “Private schools in Ontario have virtually no (anti-bullying) oversight whatsoever.”
The University of Toronto professor and former deputy Ontario Education Minister said it’s easy to advise private schools to be more like their publicly-funded counterparts, but he has no faith that they’ll obey those guidelines without government involvement.
“If there’s no sanction, if there’s no public transparency and accountability by the province, who knows whether it will take place or not?”
Global News contacted Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s office and received the following response from a spokesperson:
“Every student in Ontario should feel safe at school and be free from violence and bullying. We will continue to work on this – including through a strengthened curriculum – to find solutions to end bullying in all of its forms,” the statement said.
Implementing some of the independent review’s recommendations will take a lot of work, time and possibly money for training, but school administration said they’re up to the task.
In a video posted on the school’s website Thursday, interim St. Michael’s College School President Rev. Andrew Leung read a prepared statement and claimed, “The top priority that the school will be addressing is bullying and the impact that it has on students. We must be better in this area, and we will.”