Friday February 2, 2024 | LANGFORD, BC [Updated 12:30 pm]
by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends
A gathering of students, parents and grandparents protested outside the Sooke School District (SD62) administration office in Langford this week as a way to pressure SD62 Board or administration to respond to their concerns about what they say are situations of sexual harassment and assault on school property during school hours.
SD62 Superintendent Paul Block has declined to comment to Island Social Trends on this scenario that hit the news cycle earlier this week. And so far, the SD62 Board (Chair Amanda Dowhy, vice-chair Cendra Beaton) have been silent on the issue.
Today Education and Child Care Minister Rachna Singh said in a news conference (in Burnaby) that the SD62 situation is “a local issue” and that she feels assured the SD62 school district is working on it.
“Anytime any issue that our student population that is of great concern to me and to everybody at the ministry… and I know the school district takes strong steps to address issues,” said Minister Singh today.
“And this is a local issue that is being addressed by the local school district. I can assure you that the safety of our students… that get the quality education in a safe, welcoming environment to achieve quality and we will do everything to assure that,” said Singh.
Father & grandparents upset:
In some TV news coverage this week, at least one parent — a father of a school-age girl — was visibly upset at how little response he has received from the school district about what he say happened to his daughter at the hands of a group of boys on school property on a school morning a few years ago.
Four grandmothers on site at the protest also articulated their concerns including Jackie Larkin, Grace Dingman, and Cheryl Brown.
Over the years, SD62 has proven themselves to be very big on ‘process’. It feels filtered and distancing by the parents or guardians who are trying to get authentic responses to their concerns.
Series of superintendents:
The previous SD62 superintendent was Scott Stinson who retired as of December 31, 2023.
The new SD62 superintendent is Paul Block, who has been an associate superintendent with the school district for many years, under at least two superintendents (Jim Cambridge was superintendent before Stinson).
Unwavering dedication to safety and inclusivity:
In an SD62 statement dated January 31, 2024 — entitled ‘Creating a Secure and Inclusive Learning Environment’ — SD62 says the district is “unwavering in its dedication to cultivating a safe, respectful, inclusive and responsive learning community”.
Given the number of people at the protest and the intensity of their remarks and concerns, it’s not surprising that the rest of the statement reflects what appears to be experienced by the parents as dismissal or disregard.
“Our paramount consideration is the safety of our students, there is no tolerance for sexual harassment or assault within the district. We place the duty of care for our students and staff at the forefront which serves as the foundation for the powerful and secure learning environments that we provide to our student community. Safety concerns raised by students, parents, staff and community are treated very seriously. We allocate the resources we have available and collaborate with our community and provincial partners to address concerns through a trauma-informed lens while adhering to legal and statutory regulations.” the statement reads.
The rest of the statement shows how an administrative approach involves various levels of representation (coordinators and the district parent PAC), which essentially cleanses and diffuses any direct opportunity for action requests. It’s a way for administration and board to skirt around legal liability where possible. If they don’t hear the complaints directly, then it’s a report or even hearsay.
In fact, it feels reminiscent of the handling of complaints prior to the MeToo movement. Nowadays the trend is to believe then question, not disbelieve and diffuse.
In a way, the SD62 response is one of accepting that a particular culture of student life might exist and to stand afar as it works itself out. This seems like a surprisingly stand-offish approach in the now-established MeToo era.
The SD62 statement continues:
“Our Commitments – Beyond our policies and codes of conduct, we are committed to:”
- “A full-time Sexual Health Coordinator to support the delivery of the Physical Health and Education curriculum, including comprehensive consent education from K-12.”
- “Regular meetings with students from the initial protest, providing a platform to address concerns, share educational resources, and engage subject matter experts for discussions (internal and external professionals).”
- “Collaboration with parents/guardians through the District Sooke Parents Education Advisory Council (SPEAC) including ongoing dialogues, where the Superintendent actively participates in sharing information and answering questions.”
- “Our Safe Schools Team, working alongside Principals, Vice Principals, school counsellors, and community wraparound supports, focusing on safety and providing trauma-informed assistance to students and families.”
- “Principals and Vice Principals receiving annual training on trauma-informed practices and education, including responding to sexual assault allegations.”
- “Staff reviewing current policies governing student behaviour and school safety, focusing on responding to all forms of violence including sexual assault allegations.”
- “Engaging with community partners and subject matter experts to ensure a comprehensive approach to addressing sexual violence that encompasses community support.”
- “Promoting and building student awareness of the ERASE Reporting Tool, a secure, anonymous and confidential tool for students to message the school district’s Safe Schools Coordinator, who follows up that day. Further resources for students, parents, and educators related to student safety, sexual orientation and gender identity, mental health and substance use are available on the erase website.”
- “The Sooke School District remains steadfast in fostering a secure, supportive, and inclusive educational environment for all.”
Back to January 12, 2024:
For information on policies and student codes of conduct, SD62 released a statement on January 12, 2024 called Responding to Sexual Assault Allegations and Supporting Students.
The statement indicates an initial level of assessment which could understandably be interpreted by parents, students or other complainants as a dead end. “When incidents, including those that allegedly involve sexual assault, are brought forward to school district staff,
the nature and context of the disclosed incident dictates the next steps of any investigation,” said SD62.
The January 12, 2024 statement seems to also defer administratively by emphasizing “whether the disclosure engages the jurisdiction of another entity such as the Ministry of Child and Family Development or law enforcement. Investigations that may potentially lead to criminal charges are the primary responsibility of law enforcement.”
- Robust registration expected for Sept 2024 Kindergarten (January 4, 2024)
- SD62 internal refresh for 2024 (December 20, 2023)
- SD62 ushering in Paul Block as their next superintendent starting 2024 (July 3, 2023)
- SD62 NEWS SECTION
===== ABOUT THE WRITER:
She now also reports with the BC Legislative Press Gallery.
Mary P Brooke is the founder, editor and publisher of Island Social Trends (previously West Shore Voice News 2014-2020 and before that Sooke Voice News 2011-2013).
Mary Brooke ran for SD62 trustee in 2022.