Hamilton Westworth District School Board says it will move quickly to start implementing the recommendations of the Bullying Review Panel that was established after the murder of Devin Selvey in 2019. The three-person panel conduced dozens of interviews and conducted a survey in which 10,000 respondents participated. The wide-ranging report said to successfully address bullying with require a system-wide approach with dedicated leadership and adequate resources.
Bullying widespread at HWDSB
The report found that 60 percent of students reported they had been bullied, with one in five saying they experienced frequent bullying.
The report concluded that bullying is a significant problem in HWDSB schools that affects all demographic groups and identities in different ways. It found that bullying went hand-in-hand with issues such as race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family status, genetic characteristics and ability. The authors concluded that an anti-bullying strategy would need to be rooted in a framework of equity, diversity and inclusion.
The report said that a zero-tolerance approach is not effective. “Students affected by and involved in bullying incidents, whether in the role of bully, victim or bystander, need support to develop social-emotional capacity. Although there should be consequences for bullying others, consequences need to be educational or developmental to ensure that students are learning and developing optimally.”
Not surprisingly the survey revealed that most bullying takes places when authorities are not watching. “Survey findings from students, parents, guardians, caregivers and staff all indicate that areas of low or no supervision were associated with higher bullying rates and feeling less safe. In particular, breaks and outside recess were hazardous. This finding was further corroborated by students, parents, guardians and caregivers during the community consultation sessions. For example, students talked about experiencing violence, name calling and feelings of fear in unsupervised areas such as buses, hallways and change rooms.”
Bullied students used COVID remote learning to escape bullying
The survey also found that students who had experienced persistent bullying pre-COVID made up a larger percentage of those who signed up for remote learning after the Pandemic hit. It provided them with a way of avoiding school.
The report noted that the HWDSB Safe School Survey found reported rates of cyberbullying to be lower than reported rates of other forms of bullying, such as physical or verbal, during the prior school year (preCOVID-19). “The complexity and severity of the consequences following bullying are related more to the intensity and duration of the bullying, not the specific type or form of bullying. Cyberbullying presents unique risks to children and youth because it is anonymous, public, permanent and can occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These risks and the harm they cause are real and present, especially in light of the current blended model of education with a remote learning component, yet it is important to tackle cyberbullying within the context of a broad bullying prevention and intervention approach rather than creating specialized, siloed programs. “
Staff are involved in Bullying, both as perpetrators and victims
Bullying occurs between students, between staff and students, and between staff members. For example, Safe School Survey results indicate that for the previous school year (pre-COVID):
• 59.8% of students reported being bullied at any rate and 19.7% reported being
• 44.9% of surveyed staff reported seeing a staff member bully another staff
• 30.8% of surveyed staff reported seeing a staff member bully a student
The report recommended the establishment of a bullying prevention and intervention lead position at the board. This position will lead system-level content and process efforts to create a culture of caring.
Overall the review panel recommended that each school is given the time, staff resources, information and tools to coordinate their safe school team and make their own unique plan to prevent and address bullying. Students, parents, guardians, caregivers, school staff, community groups and service providers should be involved in creating the plan. School staff also need specific training to prevent and respond to bullying.
The full report can be seen here.