A report on the progress of a culture review at St. Michael’s College School is expected by the end of the month. Photo by Michael Swan

St. Mike’s survey takes aim at school culture

By 
  • May 11, 2019

In late April, as six expelled students from St. Michael’s College School facing sex assault charges had their court case put over until June, the private boys’ school in midtown Toronto was in the process of collecting responses to a survey as part of its respect and culture review.

The school is soliciting responses from current and past students, current and former staff, and parents as it investigates the culture and policies at the Catholic school that may have factored into an assault and sexual assault scandal that erupted at the Catholic school in late 2018.

Seven students were charged after eight separate incidents were investigated by police, all from this academic year (another student’s case is being dealt with separately). Three of the incidents involved members of the junior football team.

All of the accused were between 14 and 15 years old at the time of the alleged incidents. Their identities are protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The scandal rocked the 167-year-old school run by the Basilian order and led to the resignations of principal Greg Reeves and board president Fr. Jefferson Thompson just days after events began to unfold in mid-November (Thompson has since been replaced as interim president by Fr. Andrew Leung).

The junior football and varsity basketball teams were suspended, though the basketball team was reinstated in mid-January. Almost immediately the school announced it was hiring a student wellness officer and would conduct an independent examination of student culture and appointed a four-member independent committee that is expected to make its recommendations by the summer, though an update is expected on May 29.

The purpose of the survey is to find out about the culture and student safety at St. Mike’s, and invited partners to answer a number of questions on their experiences at the school.

The confidential and anonymous PREVNet School Safety Survey for St. Mike’s alumni, obtained by The Register, asked respondents about their experiences at the school pertaining to bullying. It asked if the former students had either experienced or taken part in bullying (physical, verbal, social, electronic, sexual, disability, racial or religious bullying) or hazing and its effects on the student, and whether any adults at the school were aware of bullying and what was their response.

“Every voice counts,” wrote Mark Sandler, chair of the Independent Respect and Culture Review Committee in a letter of information sent to participants. “All of the community’s responses … will be considered in building a comprehensive understanding of life at SMCS and serve as one foundation for our recommendations.”

Sandler emphasized the survey was only one way in which the committee was gathering data and invited “all members of the SMCS community to contact the committee (if we haven’t contacted you) and provide input through interviews or in writing.”

The committee will also be holding a town hall meeting before its report is released.

School officials did not respond to requests for comment on how the review was progressing.

Fr. Kevin Storey, the Basilians’ general superior, also said “it would be premature for me to comment” as there was nothing to formally report, and that he is “happy to respect the established timeline.”

The school has been pro-active in dealing with the issue since the scandal broke.

It has held a number of student debrief assemblies, parent and alumni town halls, provided counselling services, conducted respect and resiliency workshops and brought in experts to speak with students and parents.

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