Bullying awareness campaign must take ‘system-wide approach’: Hamilton school board exec

Police on scene at Winston Churchill School in Hamilton on Oct. 7, 2019 after the fatal stabbing death of student Devan Bracci-Selvey. Don Mitchell / Global News

A number of new initiatives will be launched this week as Hamilton’s public school board tries to tackle the complex challenge of bullying.

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board’s (HWDSB) bullying awareness week will run for the five days and in light of the stabbing death of 14-year-old Devan Bracci-Selvey in early October, the board has stepped up its supports for its students, parents and staff.

At the forefront of the activities is staff training that will see a mandatory full-day meeting of principals and vice-principals dedicated to bullying prevention, intervention, responding and reporting followed by dedicated training for all teachers during a PA day on Nov. 29.

The professional activity day was originally earmarked to tackle math scores, however, following the fatal incident at Winston Churchill School in early October, director of education Manny Figueiredo told Global News he reached out to the ministry and asked to switch to an agenda built around “positive cultural well-being” and addressing bullying.

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Figueiredo says the existing protocol for dealing with bullying should be revisited and possibly revamped.

“I think yes, (it) absolutely needs revisiting on an annual basis,” said Figueiredo. “For two reasons: we know that there’s turnover of staff, so with the new staff coming on just a reminder of our policies and procedures, and I think it’s a good refresher that we all collectively own this responsibility of responding to incidents and putting the research in front of people.”

Some of the other initiatives announced on Friday include classroom activities focusing on bullying prevention and intervention, an educational package for parents providing information on how to report bullying, and training all school staff on “emotion coaching,” which Figueiredo describes as a method to determine when to intervene when a problem occurs.

“We have to be able to validate students. In other words, listen to what they’re saying, try to validate in terms of how they’re feeling before we start to provide a solution.”

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Figueiredo goes on to say that training should be “system-wide” and not exclusive to teachers.

“In some cases, the caring adult might not be and may not be the classroom teacher. It could be an educational assistant who knows the student best. Sometimes we’ve seen cases where our caretakers developed a great relationship. Sometimes it’s our school administrators. So that’s why it needs to be a system-wide approach.”

Other new initiatives include:

  • Building a dedicated public website that will house all guides and supports used in schools for bullying prevention and intervention.
  • A parent conference on Safe Schools policies set to take place early in the new year.
  • Redeployment of HWDSB Helps, a free and anonymous way for students to find help for themselves and one another using text, web and app conversations.

The HWDSB is currently in the process of conducting an independent review expected to provide feedback and recommendations before May 31, 2020 on how to deal with bullying.

On Tuesday, the board revealed that a three-member panel with connections to McMaster University will work with an independent consulting firm with a background in bullying and mental health.

Figueiredo says parents, students and staff will have multiple opportunities to reach out to the panel in the new year. He anticipates events will happen in some form between January and March.

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“We know we can’t do this alone. And we have to engage in this conversation,” Figueiredo said. “There will be multiple opportunities for our community to engage in this conversation and bring some advice in terms of how we can move forward.”

Click to play video: 'Hamilton-Wentworth district school board votes for panel on bullying intervention'
Hamilton-Wentworth district school board votes for panel on bullying intervention


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