Cyber-bullying added to safe schools provisions
TORONTO - Legislation to be introduced Tuesday will add bullying and cyber-bullying to the list of behaviours that could get a student suspended or expelled from an Ontario school, Education Minister Kathleen Wynne said Monday.
Wynne said she wants input from students because they're the experts in using YouTube, Instant Messaging and the other internet-based methods now available to share personal information -- or bully someone -- using audio, pictures and video.
"I want to bring some students together and I want to start talking to kids about what's going on in their lives, and their perceptions on cyber-bullying and technology,'' she said.
"None of us grew up with the kinds of technology that kids are dealing with (today).''
Stu Auty, president of the Canadian Safe Schools Network, said many teens don't realize how mean and brutal their actions are when they post something negative on-line about another student or teacher.
"It's powerful, and often as not, kids don't know the impact of their actions,'' Auty said Monday in an interview.
"There has got to be some education in this respect so kids can't go through their life and do damaging things without having some understanding of what that means. It's really quite profound.''
Auty said schoolyard bullying has always been a problem, but it is nothing compared with the widespread use and abuse of the internet to target or mock other students and teachers.
"This is an issue that's exploding,'' he said.
"In days gone by, kids that bullied others had a very sort of limited scope, but today the world is their scope.''
Opposition Leader John Tory said he agreed with the idea of having specific measures to combat cyber-bullying.
"It really requires a lot of education and counselling of those people as to why it's hurtful,'' said Tory.
"If there are ways the Safe Schools Act can address bullying and make sure that there are sanctions in place for those who repeatedly bully -- and programs to support those people so they don't end up getting expelled, I would be quite happy to see that happen.''
NDP Leader Howard Hampton said schools need better financial resources to deal with bullying and other behavioural problems among students.
"You want to wipe out bullying in the school yard? You need to have better supervision in the lunchroom,'' said Hampton.
The new bill will also replace the controversial zero-tolerance policy under the old Safe Schools Act with new options to deal with troubled students and help them complete their education, said Wynne.
"It's a stronger and more rational approach to discipline,'' she said.
Critics, including Ontario's Human Rights Commission, said the zero-tolerance policy unfairly targeted visible minority and low-income students.
Wynne said the government wanted to give schools more options than simply suspending or expelling troubled students, and doesn't want to write-off those young people without exploring other options to complete their education.