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OSS student fears 'safe schools committee' will lead to profiling

‘Things like this can end up leading to solutions being proposed that end up making students feel less safe,’ cautions student trustee
Aalia Majid, an Orillia Secondary School student who serves as a student trustee on the Simcoe County District School board, expressed some concerns about a new safe schools committee.

Student trustees are concerned the Simcoe County District School Board’s new safe schools committee may have some unintended consequences.

During the board’s regular meeting on Feb. 28, trustees voted in favour of starting up a safe schools committee with the goal of creating safer school environments in the face of rising violence. However, two student trustees posed questions to the table about the potential for the committee to actually make students feel less safe in school.

“How can you guarantee this won’t damage students by causing them to be profiled?” asked student trustee Aalia Majid, an Orillia Secondary School student. “As a Hijabi and a Muslim in this post-9/11 world, as a second grader, my identity as a Muslim was considered a problem before Islamophobia ever was.”

“Can you promise students that they won’t suffer the way I did?” she asked.

Director of education, John Dance, responded to say that the group would be looking at strategies and resources, and that the intention is not to profile students.

“It’s intended to be something that is practical, on-the-ground, but also take a good look at what takes place inside our schools,” he said.

The motion was first put forward by Barrie trustee Lynn Strachan at the board’s Jan. 31 meeting, but at that time to motion pushed specifically for a 10 per cent reduction in violence in Simcoe County schools. The percentage was removed from the motion approved by trustees on Wednesday.

The committee will be tasked with developing strategies to address and reduce violence in schools and identify resources to create safer school environments for students and staff.

Under the motion passed, the committee will include two trustees, one superintendent, one principal, three parents and include representatives from social service agencies working with youth and equity-seeking groups. The original motion included representatives from specific groups such as the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and teachers’ union representatives, but specific group names were removed in the motion approved on Wednesday.

During discussion, Barrie trustee Lisa-Marie Wilson asked why union representatives were not included in the list of organizations who would participate.

“They bring a unique perspective that I think needs to be heard,” said Wilson. “I think it’s important we separate the voice of the union and they be part of this committee.”

Orillia/Ramara/Severn trustee and chair Jodi Lloyd clarified that the composition of the committee would be addressed through the terms of reference to be brought back to trustees from board staff this coming June, and that Dance would take the feedback.

Lucy Duncan is a student trustee who expressed some concerns about a new safe schools committee.

Student trustee Lucy Duncan said she was concerned the motion was vague on the end goal of the committee. She said she would like to see students represented on the committee.

“Although the intention is to reduce violence... things like this can end up leading to solutions being proposed that end up making students feel less safe. I would like to see us emphasize student voice,” said Duncan.

Back in December, SCDSB trustees received a report on violence in Simcoe County public schools. According to the report, there were 159 violent incidents in their schools in the 2022/23 school year, a 30.3 per cent increase over the previous year.

Simcoe County teachers' unions have said violent incident numbers are “under-reported” and “misleading” based on how the school board and province define a violent incident.

Under the Ministry of Education’s definition, violent incidents include possessing a weapon (including possessing a firearm), physical assault causing bodily harm requiring medical attention, sexual assault, robbery, using a weapon to cause or to threaten bodily harm to another person, extortion and hate/bias-motivated occurrences.

According to the SCDSB, violent incidents can also include incidents where no one was harmed or required medical attention. Those incidents may still be dealt with by school administration through suspension, detention or expulsion, but are not required to be reported to the province and were not included in the school board's violent incident reporting.

At the end of discussion, trustees voted in favour of proceeding with the safe schools committee. Dance will report back to the board on the terms of reference for the new committee by June 30. The committee would be expected to provide an interim report to trustees on the matter by June 2025, with a final report by January 2026.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen is an experienced journalist working for Village Media since 2018, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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