Photo by Michael Swan

St. Michael's College School moves to next stage

  • August 21, 2019

St. Michael’s College School is set to launch the next phase in its journey to change the culture at the Toronto all-boys’ school that led to a highly-publicized bullying scandal and the expulsion of and criminal charges laid against members of the school’s junior football team.

The school has accepted and reviewed the Respect and Culture Review Committee’s final report into the culture at the school that examined St. Mike’s traditions, social and cultural practices. It came in the wake of the scandal that broke in late November after videos surfaced of a student allegedly being sexually assaulted with a broom handle. Seven students were initially charged by Toronto police, though charges against one student have been withdrawn. 

The scandal shook the 167-year-old institute and led to the resignations of principal Greg Reeves and board president Fr. Jefferson Thompson, as well as the suspension of the junior football and varsity basketball programs, both of which have been reinstated.

The report, released to the public Aug. 15, contains 36 recommendations. Fr. Andrew Leung, on behalf of the board of directors, thanked the review committee for its efforts and said the school will now continue its journey of “learning, healing and change.”

“Their work enables us to methodically address the underlying issues identified in a positive, meaningful and sustainable way — using best practices and evidence-based strategies that we believe will help (St. Mike’s) to be a best-in-class educational institution,” said Leung in a statement. “Our goal remains unwavering — to ensure the safety and well-being of our students.”

The review committee concluded in its report to St. Michael’s board of directors that “there are two realities” at the midtown private Catholic school run by the Basilian order. For many, St. Michael’s “represented the very best in schooling,” but others encountered a different reality, where “the school failed to ensure that they felt safe and secure or fully included.” 

The four-person committee led by Toronto lawyer Mark Sandler found that hazing was not a significant part of St. Mike’s culture, though it will be addressed. But through a survey that elicited responses from 1,010 students enrolled during the last school year, it found more than one in five (22 per cent) had been victimized and concluded bullying is a systemic issue — though it noted it was not out of whack in comparison to other boys of similar age across Canada. Still, Leung said, “this is not acceptable. We must and will do better.”

Also needed is greater transparency, inclusion and education in school policies and proposed changes, he said.

“We will continue to bring everyone in our community into the process of finding solutions. We will also provide all students and faculty with the support, information and tools they need to both intervene and prevent bullying.”

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