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DDSB creating a committee to investigate violence and harassment issues

DAN CEARNS, The Standard

DURHAM: The Durham District School Board (DDSB) is creating a committee to look at issues of violence and harassment in schools.

At a meeting on Monday, May 1st, Oshawa Trustee Deb Oldfield made a motion to have an ad hoc committee set up, comprising all trustees and student trustees, “with the purpose of information gathering, monitoring and evaluating issues related, but not limited to, incidents of violence and harassment; including any and all interrelated issues which may arise or be presented to the committee.” This committee would then “build policy, strategies and standards for safety and sustainability, and measure the implementation of the collaborative plans.”

Oshawa Trustee Deb Oldfield explained the purpose and reasoning behind the motion.

“On March 16th, trustee [Shailene] Panylo and I were invited to meet with MPP Jennifer French, the MPP for Oshawa. At that meeting, the issue of staffing shortages in Ontario, and specifically at the DDSB, were raised by MPP French, and included concerns about the challenge of recruiting and retaining qualified Educational Assistants (EA) and certified teachers,” she explained.

She added, from that meeting, the two trustees found out “difficulties with recruitment and retention of qualified and/or certified staff are not a result of a lack of qualified or certified workers, but rather a result of a number of interrelated issues such as violence and harassment, mental health and well-being and existing staff shortages and absences to name a few.”

Scugog, Uxbridge, and Brock trustee Carolyn Morton questioned the precedent of having all trustees sit on one ad hoc committee.

“In our history, we’ve had many ad hoc committees, but we have not said all trustees would be members. It has been freedom of choice.”

Trustee Oldfield responded, stating there wouldn’t be a “mandatory attendance” requirement. Instead, she said the meeting would be “open to all trustees to attend.”

Pickering trustee Emma Cunningham asked how the board would obtain information on incidents of violence and harassment in the classroom.

Trustee Panylo responded that trustees hear personal stories from parents all the time, and those experiences help to influence policy at the board level.

“We have a duty to do things differently. Education, as a whole, needs us to do things differently. It needs us to be courageous. It needs us to try something new,” Trustee Panylo stressed.

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