Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022
Partnerships, training, data and pilot programs contribute
to keep NNDSB schools safe for students and staff
Safe, welcoming and accepting learning environments are built, they don’t just exist. A report that was requested by Near North District School Board (NNDSB) Vice-Chair John Cochrane has been completed and was presented to the Board at last night’s meeting, detailing a wide range of programs, initiatives and partnerships that contribute to safer schools in which students can thrive.
Vice-Chair Cochrane requested the report in the spring, after multiple violent incidents at schools in the United States.
Presented by Superintendent Gay Smylie, the report outlined the safe school framework that creates safer learning spaces for students. The three pillars under which programs and initiatives fall are citizenship and community, conflict resolution and bullying awareness.
Board Chair Jay Aspin said, “In view of serious incidents in today’s society, particularly at schools in the United States, we must be diligent in ensuring the safety and well-being of students in our schools. I am confident – by the amount of care, consideration and effort toward this goal – that this is a serious priority of our board. The safe schools framework of programs developed by our staff have been carefully constructed, data driven in approach and are second to none.
NNDSB is supported in this work through several partnerships. Among the board’s partners are: the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P) for its financial support of teacher training and presentations to families about online risk; the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) for support to school teams, conversations with students and families, response to incidents and for transporting the board’s fleet of bicycles; North Bay Police Service (NBPS) for the provision of a liaison officer to support education initiatives, bullying awareness campaigns and safe school incidents; North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit for its assistance with public health campaigns related to cannabis use among youth, the dangers of vaping and promoting active school transportation; and Amelia Rising North Bay/Muskoka Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services for providing students and families with access to victim services and for providing resources to teachers and secondary students about healthy relationships, consent, abuse and how to seek help.
Since the launch of the safe schools framework in 2020, many new initiatives have been implemented.
School-based staff have access to a bullying awareness and prevention SharePoint that incorporates lessons, resources and activities that challenge students to think about how their actions can cultivate safety and inclusivity in their class, school and communities. Staff also receive training in violence prevention and de-escalation.
Teachers are now mandated to successfully complete sexual abuse prevention training before they can be registered with the Ontario College of Teachers.
Principals and vice-principals receive safe schools newsletters and have access to a SharePoint with templates, Ministry of Education documents and frequently asked questions. These school administrators also perform assessments to determine areas of strength and areas for growth regarding the physical environment, activities for staff and circumstances related to staff work. The safe schools team is also enabling administrator capacity in utilizing restorative practices, as the team believes the practices can decrease suspension rates, augment open communications and repair relationships following a misbehaviour or high risk incident.
Many supports exist for students, families and community members. The SAFERSCHOOLS! reporting form allows for anonymous reporting of incidents that should be brought to a staff member. A safe arrivals pilot program was developed, and soon its associated administrative guideline will be presented. The program will see attendance taken within 15 minutes of the entry bell, and callouts made within 30 minutes of the entry bell. Staff have been instructed on how to educate students about healthy relationships, how to identify signs of potential sex trafficking or assault and how to support victims of trafficking or sexual assault. The board’s anti-sex trafficking administrative guideline expedites and tailors supports for victims, potential victims and impacted school workers.
The safe schools team will continue to seek data from a number of sources, including the school climate survey, mental health surveys, suspension and infraction rates, safe school reporting form data, SAFER SCHOOLS! reporting tool data and analytics from C3P. Among the safe schools team’s goals for the 2022-2023 school year are building staff capacity to enact preventative measures and responsive actions that ensure safe learning environments for all students, using data to determine areas of future investment, building partnerships that support welcoming school environments, encouraging inclusivity and well-being and fostering greater family communication.
Eight schools will participate in a conflict resolution program that teaches students to Walk Away, Ignore, Talk it Out and Seek Help (WITS). Results from the pilot will determine future use. Vape detectors will be installed at one secondary school to measure the impact it has on vaping in school washrooms. The project will help principals identify which students may benefit from addictions counselling to reduce or quit e-cigarette use.
Two restorative practices learning sessions have been held, and principals and vice-principals who are interested in learning more will be invited to monthly restorative circles. The purpose is to engage in deep reflection about practices and consider how school issues and responses to them shift with the adoption and refinement of a restorative lens.
Vice-Chair Cochrane, who requested the report, said he is grateful to the safe schools team for the depth and breadth of its scope. “The team is constantly striving to make staff and students feel safe, welcome and included while they are involved in school-related activities. Student achievement and well-being is at the centre of every NNDSB improvement plan, and the work represented in this report furthers our efforts to achieve excellence in relationships. I appreciate the work of the safe schools team and am grateful for the contents of this important report.”
Near North District School Board
P. (705) 472-8170, extension 5010