Hamilton’s public school board says it has chosen a team with significant experience in children’s health and well-being to lead its bullying review panel.
The panel includes three community members with connections to McMaster University as well as four advisers from an independent consulting firm with a background in bullying and mental health.
At the forefront of the group are Jean Clinton, a child advocate from McMaster’s department of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences; Brenda Flaherty, an assistant professor at McMaster’s School of Nursing; and Gary Warner, a former professor who has experience with issues related to poverty, human rights, anti-racism, immigration and social justice.
The panel is expected to provide independent feedback and recommendations on how to deal with bullying before May 31, 2020.
“The review panel will provide us with guidance and advice on bullying prevention strategies and tactics so that we have the best practices and tools to make our students and staff feel safe, supported and accepted,” said Alex Johnstone, chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB), in a statement on Tuesday.
The move comes after a late October meeting led by HWDSB director of education Manny Figueiredo, who revealed the panel’s creation in the hopes of getting to the root causes of bullying and school violence.
Figueiredo told Global News there was no doubt that the complexity of the bullying problem was magnified by the events of Oct. 7, when 14-year-old Devan Selvey was stabbed to death on the grounds of Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School.
The most recent numbers available for reported violent incidents in the HWDSB was for 2017-18, when the Ministry of Education was notified of 13 incidents.
However, Figueiredo admitted the 2017-18 numbers don’t include the number of students involved in a typical altercation.
“One incident could have resulted in five or six students in the incident,” Figueiredo said.
The review panel will gather feedback from community groups about bullying but will not be engaging in the current police investigation at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School, according to the school district.
Figueiredo says that in addition to the panel, supports have been put in place in Hamilton public schools in the form of social workers, behavioural consultants and 25 child youth workers.
The board’s director says the hope is to engage students with intimidation issues and get them the help they need before a situation escalates into violence.
“We need preventative measures that really deal with the root cause of why students are experiencing some of this trauma and what supports we have to put in place,” Figueiredo said, “This is complex. Early intervention is going to be key here.”