New Safe Schools Act - A step in the right direction

    TORONTO, April 17 /CNW/ - The Ontario Public School Boards' Association
(OPSBA) is a strong advocate for schools that are safe places for our students
to learn and for our staff to work in. We believe that the solutions to
keeping schools free of violence and to reducing levels of violence in society
overall lie in far-sighted education and prevention initiatives. OPSBA
welcomes, therefore, the proposed legislative amendments to the safe schools
provisions of the Education Act.
    "OPSBA believes that ensuring safety in our schools means sending clear
messages that there are behaviours that are unacceptable and they will be
dealt with," said Rick Johnson, president of OPSBA. "The proposed legislative
changes strike a responsible balance. They set out strong consequences for
unacceptable behaviour and, at the same time, put in place alternative
programs that allow students to continue their education while learning
accountability for their behaviour. The proposed legislation supports Boards
in building more creative and flexible approaches to addressing the complex
issue of discipline."
    OPSBA supports the current efforts made by the government to address the
growing problem of bullying and cyber-bullying. In their various forms, these
behaviours victimize too many of our children and undermine their healthy
growth and development. Adding bullying and cyber-bullying as infractions for
which suspensions must be considered sends a strong message that they will not
be tolerated in the lives of our children. Seeking input from students
regarding cyber-bullying is a step in the right direction. The current pace of
innovation has made our young people the experts in YouTube, instant messaging
and the other internet-based methods now used to very publicly share personal
information, to incite hatred or to bully someone.
    OPSBA has formed a committee that is working on measures to counteract
the effects on children and youth of violence as it is portrayed in the media
and other areas of popular culture. Education and prevention are a strong
focus of this work. School boards need to be supported in integrating
violence-prevention education into all aspects of the curriculum and providing
our young people with the skills to be critical consumers of media.
    While key provisions of the Safe Schools Act relate to students who have
been suspended or expelled for their actions, it is equally critical to
support victims of violence and their families. Assistance from school staff
and board specialists and appropriate referrals to community agencies are
vital to the healing of students who have been victimized.
    There is a real need to address the distribution of resources across the
province in support of maintaining a "safe school atmosphere." This means
there should be an equitable expansion of programs for students who are either
suspended for lengthy periods or expelled. At the same time, there is a
continuing need to develop and implement programs that teach responsible
social behaviour, address vital issues such as racism, sexism, homophobia and
youth alienation and offer students and staff strategies for conflict
resolution and peer mediation.

For further information:

For further information: Jeff Sprang, Communications, (416) 340-2540

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