While the school board accepted all 33 recommendations, funding questions remain to see whether they will be implemented.
The long-awaited Safe Schools Panel Inquiry was presented to Toronto Catholic District School Board trustees Thursday night following the fatal 2014 double shooting of Don Bosco students Michael Menjivar and Zaid Youssef, who died steps away from school. The board approved all of 33 recommendations.
Led by retired TCDSB superintendent Paul Crawford, the panel recommended a call for an end to the “don’t snitch” ethos he says is prevalent in schools and neighbourhoods.
“The social taboo against telling on someone is so strong it’s keeping students from sharing information that would help them stay safe,” said Crawford. “That’s a big part of how they seem themselves. Don’t want to be seen as a rat or a snitch.”
To combat this, the report recommends a way students can submit information anonymously on their smartphones. It was found that many students didn’t trust the Toronto Police’s “222-TIPS” line for anonymous tipping.
Crawford said the panel spent eight days meeting with school faculty and staff, students, and other members of the community before beginning to put together a draft of the report. One of the people consulted for the report was Dr. Joanne Cummings, researcher at PREVNet, a network of professionals and organizations that deal with youth safety. She said the report focuses more on adolescents but building safe environments and crisis prevention needs to start earlier.
“There’s a lot of work that can be done to avoid these kinds of tragedies when kids are younger,” said Dr. Cummings. “A way upstream from the problem. Kids with aggressive behaviour, we can identify them early and it’s not just the school board’s responsibility, it’s a governmental responsibility.”
An added challenge to making schools safer via the recommendations in the report is the TCDSB’s current budget crunch. Reports from last month revealed that the board needs to find approximately $4 million in order to close its 2015-2016 budget deficit of around $30 million.
While Crawford believes things like swipe-card access would make schools safer, he wonders whether the board can manage the costs of implementing new technology alone.
“I’m not sure if the ministry is going to release money for swipe card access,” said Crawford. “If they get dedicated funding for it, it would make it a lot easier instead of coming out of general revenue.”
But not all changes cost money. A former TCDSB student who had been expelled but subsequently received mentorship and now studies at the University of Toronto told Crawford and the rest of the panel that student leadership can make a big difference. Dr. Cummings agrees.
“Students are much more receptive to messaging from other students,” said Dr. Cummings. “Much more likely to follow the advice of a student that they can identify with than an adult. ”
As for the two Don Bosco students that died in October, Crawford wishes they had spoken up for help and not gone off school grounds that day.
“The safest place for those kids to have been was at the school,” said Crawford.
But Jina Riyad Al-Hisn, Youssef’s mother, believes metal detectors could have made it safer. She spoke at the meeting about losing her son and worked with the panel in hopes of preventing something like this from happening again.
Crawford says that not only are metal detectors expensive, students said that it was the relationships with staff and each other that made them feel safe, not the technology.
After accepting all recommendations, trustees directed Board staff to come back with an implementation plan.