Update on our work to address gender-based harassment
Over a year ago a group of NWSS students raised troubling concerns around gender-based harassment and assaults, speaking to how that has impacted some students when at school. As the Board of Education has previously commented on, “While we know these systemic experiences are not limited to one school or one district, they were and are troubling to hear.”
Our District and school-based staff take this seriously and immediately took action. Over the course of the last year there has been ongoing work to address this issue in a wide range of ways, and there is more work ahead.
On Tuesday, June 7, 2022 this topic was discussed at the Education Policy and Planning Committee meeting of the Board of Education, with updates coming from Principal Murray McLeod, Associate Superintendent Maryam Naser, and student representatives from the SEAS Club. Principal McLeod followed that up with the below summary update letter.
Dear students, parents and guardians,
On Tuesday night I had the pleasure of presenting at the Education Policy and Planning Committee meeting of the Board of Education, along with two groups of students from our school, the SEAS Club and Student Voice. I was able to speak to a range of topics as we highlighted work that’s been ongoing for us, some milestones we wanted to celebrate, and I keyed in on a few themes that we’re working to advance next year.
Some of those high-level themes include: work we’re engaged in around building more anti-racism learning opportunities, our ongoing efforts to address gender-based harassment, and our continued commitment to build out mental health supports both through the school and in collaboration with the Wellness Centre.
I want to take a minute to expand on how we’re addressing gender-based harassment.
As I’ve highlighted in a recent email, a year ago a group of students brought to light some shocking and troubling stories and experiences. At a school and district level we responded right away, and have been working with these students over the year to address their immediate concerns, and to support their advocacy around building awareness about gender-based harassment and toxic masculinity.
Over the course of the last year, here are a few highlights of the work that our school and district staff have been engaged in, acknowledging that this is work we will continue to build on through the coming year:
- Creating educational opportunities to address these issues, both with staff and students.
- Connecting students to counselling and wellness supports both through our school counselling office and through the Wellness Centre offerings, which are continuing to expand.
- Reviewing and addressing where curriculum offerings around things like sexual health can be expanded to better engage in conversations around consent and healthy relationships.
- Planning for school-wide presentations for the 2022/23 school year, as we look at how targeted education can support culture change.
- Reviewing Codes of Conduct for all students, coaches and adult volunteers.
- We’ve added a page to our website to help make it easier to understand how to report an incident: https://nwss.ca/contact-us/reporting-an-incident/
- We are reviewing the Incident Reporting process to see if we can make improvements to it.
- And we’re working with restorative justice community leaders at CERA (Communities Embracing Restorative Action), to explore where they may be able to facilitate group sessions, or where they could work more closely with consenting individuals who want to explore this path following an incident. This was an idea promoted by the SEAS Club, and we know that in the right situation, this is an option that can benefit the needs of all students, regardless of gender.
Two members of the SEAS Club spoke at this week’s meeting. They acknowledged that issues related to gender-based harassment are broad societal issues that extend past the school. Our students also shared hope that in a school of our size, we can play a role in creating change. They reinforced how important and personally impactful the challenges have been for some, while they highlighted their optimism about the positive impact access to restorative justice practices may have in the future. The students provided updates on the meetings they’d been having with Associate Superintendent Maryam Naser, and spoke about upcoming dialogues they’re planning to have.
As we listen, learn and support all of our students, I will repeat now, what I know I’ve said before: we take this issue seriously. We’re committed to addressing any immediate needs that arise. We will continue to do work that addresses the patterns and attitudes that can lead to harassment and assault.
We will continue this work through next year with this focus as one of our key ways we work to make our school more safe and inclusive for everyone. Our team already has plans in place for upcoming professional development days, and are working with community partners and the Wellness Centre staff to provide increased educational and other supports. You can expect to see and hear more about that next school year.