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Comox School Board Addresses High Rates of Gender-Based Violence

Five-year-old data finally being addressed

Why are board members so hesitant to take swift action?

Some pretty alarming news came up in the last Comox Valley School District meeting.

The District Parent Advisory Committee (DPAC) is calling for action to address the issue of gender-based violence among the student body.

They cited data from the McCreary Centre’s BC Adolescent Health Survey that showed that students are experiencing sexual abuse, dating violence, and sexual harassment at significantly higher levels in the region than the provincial average.

“I’m really concerned with some of the numbers,” said trustee Sheila McDonnell.

DPAC is calling for several changes in response to the issue. These include policy changes, use of reporting tools, and increased education for students.

Education would teach kids both how to respond as a victim or bystander, as well as how to manage their own emotions and behaviour.

But the issue of how to start making these changes was hotly debated within the board.

While all members were sympathetic to the cause, they were clearly divided on how best to implement changes.

The discussion centred on whether to go the standard route towards initializing changes. That route involves working with the superintendent and district staff “in respect of all the processes” to slowly and thoughtfully decide what should be done.

Trustees such as Sarah Jane Howe, who were in favour of this approach, said they needed more information on what they’re dealing with before putting committees together.

The last McCreary survey, which the data from the DPAC presentation was pulled from, took place in 2018. A new one will be done this year. The survey was also generalized to all of the northern part of VanIsle, so the board also has not yet accessed specific info for School District 71.

“I feel like it’s putting the cart before the horse going out to the community and saying we want you to be a part of this committee,” said Howe.

“Because you know, we’ve had a delegation come to us and so now we’re taking action immediately. And we’re just going to start this committee when we don’t know the information on our own schools.”

But many board members felt the data was clear enough, and they need to fast-track the operation now.

Some board members suggested that, going into summer, they should put together a consultation committee made up of parents from DPAC, the teachers’ association, CUPE, students, and community organizations.

“We could have both things happening at the same time,” said trustee Michelle Waite.

“The process could start for an ad hoc committee while the superintendent and this staff are pulling together the information to move things along at a faster pace given that we’re going to have a break over the summer.”

She hoped to speed up the lengthy process needed to isolate and combat the problem.

In the end, the board decided to go with the more conservative approach.

We’ll see the effects of this initiative moving forward.