Paul Crawford Photo courtesy of TCDSB

‘Code of silence’ keeps students in harm’s way, panel hears

  • April 2, 2015

TORONTO - Schools could be made safer by eliminating a “code of silence” among students that discourages them from informing on classmates, said the head of a panel on school safety.

As a series of public consultations on ways to make schools safer came to an end, Paul Crawford said educators need to find ways to “sensitize” students to understand that it’s “not snitching” to come forward with information that could keep a student out of harm’s way.

“It is doing the right thing,” said Crawford, chair of the Panel of Enquiry. “That is one of the big challenges that has been identified by parents, the principals and the students themselves who came and spoke.”

The enquiry panel was created by the Toronto Catholic school board following the shooting deaths last October of two Catholic high school students near Don Bosco High School. The teenagers were shot after an altercation in the school parking lot spilled over into a nearby park. Police said at the time that neither of the victims were the intended targets.

The last of three public consultations was held by the panel on March 25 at Senator O’Connor College School. Earlier consultations were held at St. Andrew Catholic School and the Catholic Education Centre.

“Our ultimate goal is to ensure that we are doing everything possible in the area of student safety and well being,” said Angela Gauthier,  director of education for the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

The panel, which also conducted private interviews, is now preparing a final report, which is expected to be ready for trustees before the end of April.

“The enquiry was the result of a board motion to look at two things,” said Crawford, a retired Catholic board superintendent. “One is to review all of the things that happened. The second reason of the enquiry was to focus on strategies to re-engage youth within our school system and the city at large to ensure these kind of instances don’t happen again.”

The panel consists of five members: trustee Patrizia Bottoni, probation officer Rachel Fezzeria, vice-president of the Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education Jana Seymour, Toronto Catholic’s director of communications John Yan and Crawford.

“(We’re) working with Toronto Police to come up with recommendations for schools,” said Crawford.

One of the biggest challenges is finding a way to encourage students to speak up before a potentially dangerous situation becomes reality.

“They (students) all say pretty much with one voice that the don’t-snitch ethos is so strong that it is exceptionally hard to break,” Crawford said.

“Schools are as safe as every one keeps them,” he said.

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