Review panel tackling bullying in Hamilton schools starts this week

The first of several sessions a part of the HWDSB's Safe Schools Review Panel will start on Feb 12, 2020 at Westmount Secondary. Don Mitchell / Global News

One of three people on the Hamilton public school board’s bullying review panel says they will be a group of listeners with “ears wide open.”

Dr. Jean Clinton, a clinical professor in the Department of Psychology, Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at McMaster University, says the panel’s primary focus during the “safe schools review panels” — the first of which starts on Wednesday at Westmount Secondary school from 6 to 9 p.m. — will focus on people’s “lived experience” with bullying.

“This is a panel of listeners who listen deeply,” Clinton told Global News. “We have a tough job because, you know, by May, we have to have a draft report and (with) input from the public on it. So absolutely this is not going to be an academic exercise or an academic report. It’s going to be accessible and as meaningful as we can as we can make it.”

READ MORE: Hamilton school board gives bullying review panel more time for public consultations

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The “Let’s Talk About Bullying” safe schools campaign will be 15 sessions scheduled between February and March of 2020.

The panel includes Clinton,  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 trio will hit five schools, Westdale (Feb. 19), Bernie Custis (Mar. 5), Saltfleet District High (Mar. 9) and Waterdown District (Mar. 25), and 10 visits with a number of special interest groups over the next two months.

“The panel’s work will provide authentic consultation and timely results to help all students and staff feel safe, supported and accepted,” education director Manny Figueiredo said in a statement revealing the schedule at the end of January.

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READ MORE: Provincial government introduces new measures to combat bullying in Ontario schools

Clinton says the panel wants to do a lot of learning during the sessions and get an idea of what direction the board should take when finally presenting recommendations before the May 31, 2020, deadline set by the school board.

“We know is that bullying is a power imbalance. It’s a relational issue,” said Clinton. “Moving forward on it has to do with assessing the climate and the leadership and really going deep and seeing what are the conditions that we need to create so that young people feel safe in their learning environments,”

Clinton says they will be reaching out to many connected with bullying incidents in the city including Shari-Ann Selvey — who lost her son Devan in a much-publicized stabbing fatality outside Winston Churchill Secondary in October 2019.

“We want to hear from people about their experiences, their lived experiences,” Clinton said. “And really come up with some recommendations that are based not only in the science, because we’re reviewing that and have experts, but in the lived experience, to make some realistic and meaningful and time focused recommendations.”

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