School District 71 is setting up a committee to look into the issue of gender-based violence among students.
The move came in response to a presentation and follow-up letter from the district parent advisory council (DPAC) calling for a number of reforms to address the problem through policies, reporting tools, training and education.
The DPAC cites data from the McCreary Centre’s BC Adolescent Health Survey that show the extent the problem, including reports of rates of sexual abuse, dating violence and sexual harassment on the north part of Vancouver Island are higher than the provincial average.
“I’m really concerned with some of the numbers,” trustee Sheila McDonnell said.
School trustees were sympathetic to the cause but divided over how to respond in the short term. McDonnell wanted the board to set up an ad hoc committee that would include representatives from numerous partner groups. As suggestions, she mentioned DPAC, the teachers’ association, CUPE, students and community organizations.
This would be in addition to the work the superintendent and district staff are already undertaking following the DPAC presentation in May.
However, trustee Janice Caton preferred the committee work with the superintendent first, to determine questions such as who should sit on the committee or how the school district should proceed. She asked for an amendment to McDonnell’s motion.
“If I’m out of order, I’ll withdraw my motion,” she said.
One of the sticking points was the time to draw up the terms of reference for the committee. The discussion over the process was testy at times, and the board took a five-minute recess after passing the motion with Caton’s amendment.
Members of the board expressed a wish for more information, including data presenting a picture of the situation within the Comox Valley rather than only the broader region.
Superintendent Tom Demeo told the board he has asked for staff to prepare a presentation including information from the McCreary report, adding McCreary is planning another follow-up survey for the province this fall.