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Safe Schools Legislation - Bill 212
BackgroundBill 212, the Education Amendment Act, (Progressive Discipline and School Safety Act), 2007 was passed in June 2007. Its provisions take effect on February 1, 2008.
Bill 212 amends, but does not completely repeal, the “safe school” provisions of Bill 81 implemented by the previous Conservative government in 2000. The philosophy of the Conservative’s Bill 81 was grounded in a “zero tolerance” approach to student discipline and led to a regime of strict discipline on the part of most school boards.
The Liberal government’s Bill 212 was in response to a complaint launched by the Ontario Human Rights Commission regarding the extent to which racialized students and students with disabilities were unfairly treated through the zero tolerance approach to student discipline. The bill also responded to education stakeholders, like ETFO, who found other aspects of the bill problematic, including giving teachers the authority to suspend students.
Board Policy RequiredAs of February 1, 2008 school boards are required to develop and implement policies on bullying prevention and intervention.
Student SuspensionsPrincipals may suspend students for anywhere from a full day to 20 days. The suspension affects the student’s attendance at classes and all school-related activities.
Suspension for Bullying Behaviour“Bullying” is added to the list of behaviours for which students can be suspended.
Definition of “Bullying”“Bullying” is defined in the Ministry’s Policy/Program Memorandum No. 144 as “repeated, persistent, and aggressive behaviour directed at an individual or individuals that is intended to cause (or should be known to cause) fear and distress and/or harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem, or reputation.” Bullying is further defined as taking different forms: physical, verbal, or social.
CyberbullyingThe Ministry definition also recognizes cyberbullying. The defintion states bullying “may also occur through the use of technology” such as e-mail, cellphones, text messaging, Internet websites, or other technology.
Duty to Inform the Student’s TeacherWhen a principal suspends a student, the principal is required to inform the pupil’s teacher of the suspension.
Teachers’ Right to Suspend RepealedOnce Bill 212 takes effect, teachers will no longer have the authority to suspend students for up to a day. ETFO advised members not to suspend students and the Advisory to Members on this issue remains in effect until February 1, 2008.
Progressive DisciplineWhen responding to negative student behaviour, Bill 212 requires principals to consider “mitigating or other factors”. These factors are defined in Ontario Regulation 472/07. This requirement represents one of the key policy changes included in the bill.
“Mitigating factors” include whether a student is able to control his or her behaviour or understands the consequences of the behaviour.
“Other factors” include the age and history of the student, whether the behaviour was in response to harassment, and, in the cases of special education students, whether the behaviour was a manifestation of a disability identified in the student’s individual education plan.
Mandatory suspensionsBill 212 retains the requirement for principals to issue mandatory suspensions in response to specific situations. Specifically principals must suspend students who:
Suspension AppealsParties to an appeal of a suspension will include the principal who suspended the student; the pupil if the pupil is at least 18 years old or, if 16 or 17, has withdrawn from parental control; the pupil’s parent or guardian; and the person who appealed the decision if that person was other than the pupil or pupil’s parent or guardian.
Powers on AppealWhere suspensions are appealed, the board shall
Student ExpulsionsBill 212 repeals the section of Bill 81 that gave principals the right to expel students. Under Bill 212, the principal may recommend that a student be expelled, but the school board is solely responsible for matters related to expulsions.
Teachers’ Right to RespondTeachers of a student for whom expulsion is recommended are to be informed of that recommendation and will have the right to respond in writing to the principal’s report.
Special Programs for Suspended and Expelled StudentsBill 212 requires school boards to provide alternative programs for suspended and expelled students. The government extended the implementation date to February 1, 2008 to give boards the time to put these new programs in place.
Increasingly, bullying is becoming a concern, not only as it affects students, but also as it affects teachers and other education workers. These school employees experience aggressive behaviour from students, parents, colleagues, and school administrators. Increasingly, teachers are also reporting incidents of bullying through the use of electronic communication.
ETFO is seeking an amendment to the Employment Standards Act similar to the provisions of the Quebec Labour Standards Act that protect employees from workplace psychological harassment.
The federation is also requesting an amendment to Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act to include protection from psychological harassment and violence.
Government ActionsThe government has appointed the Safe Schools Action Team to advise on the development of a coordinated approach to address physical and social safety issues.
On November 16, 2005, the government announced a “bullying prevention action plan” and an investment of $23 million over three years to support it.
ETFO PositionTeachers and education support workers also have a right to protection from violence in the workplace. They should not have to tolerate behaviour that threatens their safety and well-being. Reasonable measures must be established to achieve this goal.
In addition to the measures announced by the government to deal with bullying, ETFO believes the government should require school boards to:
Appropriate amendments are also required to give teachers and other education workers a legal framework for addressing incidents of workplace harassment.
Read the ETFO Submission to the Standing Committee On General Government Re: Bill 212.