Manners' mom blames death on 'culture of silence'
A culture of silence among staff and students in troubled Toronto schools is what led to the death of 15-year-old Jordan Manners, the murdered boy's mother told reporters Monday.
Loreen Small, accompanied by family members and a lawyer, made the comments in response to a 1,000-page report on school safety commissioned after her son was shot dead in the hallway of C.W. Jefferys, a high school in Toronto's north end last spring.
The report found that there have been 177 unreported incidents of violence in schools including robberies, guns and sexual assaults.
"I sent my son to a school where I thought it would be a better school for him,'' said Small. "He was a gifted child.
"Teachers saw things and they kept silent, and for that my son lost his life,'' she said.
Small also said she'd like to know why more field superintendents were not interviewed for the report.
Only five of 24 field superintendents agreed to be questioned for the report.
"I'd like to know why they didn't show," Small said, adding that she was surprised by the lack of participation.
Back in her neighbourhood late Monday afternoon, Small said the superintendents need to "break the silence."
"I'm sure that a lot of them have kids and if it was them I'm sure they would want someone to break the code of silence and say something," she told reporters. "Someone step up and say something. Do something. Don't let another kid lose their lives over something that is preventable."
Her lawyer told reporters their silence is indicative of a double standard in the community.
"We constantly hear about communities not willing to come forward and provide vital info," he said. "Well now the tables have turned."
Julian Falconer, chair of the independent safety panel who authored the report, said he's heard different reasons why they didn't participate.
"Suffice to say, that in writing, invitations were extended to their governing body and we were advised that they chose not to participate."
On Monday, Gerry Connelly, the Toronto District School Board's director of education, apologized to Small.
"There will be change as a result of your son," she said. "I have promised that in front of everyone here. That is my commitment.
"We need to identify the culture of fear that is being talked about," she said. "We need to find out what it is and we will move forward and your son's death will be vindicated. We will never forget."
Small accepted the apology but said she felt slighted in the same way she felt disrespected when she didn't get a call about the findings of the report.
She found out about the report Thursday morning, at the same time the findings were leaked to the media.
She decided to spend the weekend poring over the report before responding to it.
The report's findings
Here are some of the conclusions made by the panel members who put together the report:
- A high number of violent incidents in schools go unreported
- Nearly 20 per cent of female students at one school say they were sexually assaulted on school grounds
- Some 80 per cent of sex assault victims at one school said they wouldn't report the attack
- There is a lack of confidence the board can ensure school environments that are free of weapons and violence
The report, which has cost the board more than $800,000, says there is a culture of silence among students, staff and principals when it comes to reporting violent incidents.
Earlier this week, Toronto police announced they have charged a former principal and two vice-principals at C.W. Jefferys under the Ontario Child and Family Services Act with failing to report an alleged sexual assault on a female student.
It is alleged that the assault was reported to administrators but that they did not forward the complaint to authorities.
The report lists more than 120 recommendations to curb violence in schools. Some of the key recommendations are:
- Regularly searching lockers for any signs of weapons
- Using firearm-detecting canine units to sniff out lockers and storage areas
- Setting up a website for teens to anonymously report violent acts
- Hiring full-time social workers and counsellors at schools with high cases of violence
Small said the findings might help a broken system but that it does little to ease the pain of losing her son at such a young age.
"I see my son every day, I look in my house and he's all over the house," she said. "But his voice is not there. He's not there."
With files from The Canadian Press and a report from CTV Toronto's Galit Solomon