Original Published on Jun 21, 2022 at 19:19

By Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division board has passed a recommendation to commit to board advocacy, board development and board action to prevent sexual violence in schools.

The board made the decision after a presentation from Saskatchewan Rivers Students for Change (SRSC) trustee Tia-Lee McCallum.

Education director Robert Bratvold said the school division already admin policies on harassment, violence, and sexual violence, but it makes sense to review those procedures to make sure they’re up to date.

“Currently there are some (policies) around harassment, there are some around violence and within each of those there are some references to sexual violence,” Bratvold explained. “But, I think it makes sense to take a look and say, ‘are there pieces in those admin procedures that can be strengthened and or even just refreshed in terms of better language and based on more current research?’”

During Monday’s presentation, McCallum discussed the High School Me Too movement which has the goal to end sexual violence in all high schools. According to McCallum’s research there is no High School Me Too movement in Saskatchewan.

Bratvold credited McCallum for drawing the board’s attention to the issue.

“Having her bring the issues related to sexual violence in our community and in our schools, bringing that to a highlight and saying, ‘what can we specifically do about this?’–that’s a really helpful thing,” Bratvold said. “It’s an important function of a trustee and the topic, the information, (and) the need is really pressing.”

Potential actions from the High School Me Too movement involve reviewing policies and procedures related to violence, harassment and discipline, along with developing stand-alone sexual violence and sexual harassment policies, and updated dress code policies with students to make sure that learning environments are equitable and shame free.

Another action was to invite the SRSC to develop a consent committee to address sexual violence. The fourth was to explore partnerships with community based sexual violence organizations to establish agreements so families have access to education.

McCallum also brought her own ideas for improving mental health that she discussed with PACI principal Dave Lokinger. This included aspects from the Child Advocate report called Desperately Waiting.

It would deal with mental health in stages including pre-K to Grade 4 and after Grade 8. She also wants to use the Embracing Life app as part of the strategy as she discussed during the May 9 meeting. The third part was in Grade 8 to Grade 12. The discussion she had was only preliminary and the ideas had just been discussed on Monday.

“That’s a clear action, but there was lots of discussion about what else we can do,” Bratvold said. “Tia raised the idea around some grade groupings and some key messages in that early years and middle years and in high school age groups. There is some discussion and some review that we can do there.”

The board will also look to include policies about sexual harassment and violence in their Board Development Plan. Bratvold said the board takes part in professional development plans that help them become better trustees. Learning about how to best deal with sexual violence cases that happen in schools is important.

“This can be an element of that plan in making sure they (trustees) are well informed about the reality, and about the things they can do I in that leadership position to combat sexual violence in our community and in our schools,” Bratvold said.

Bratvold added that schools reflect the communities they are located in, which means trustees have to be attentive to what’s going on outside the classroom too. That includes sexual violence, a topic people are aware of, but may not pay a lot of attention to.

“Things that we wouldn’t have thought about 10 years ago are important,” Bratvold said.

“I think it is very much connected to our work that we have done the last three or four years around mental health and wellbeing,

“We do some good, strong work on mental health and wellbeing, and part of that is supporting people who have been the been victims of sexual violence. There are some really strong connections there and then there are also additional things we can do to strengthen people’s awareness and understanding and how to stand up and prevent sexual violence from occurring.”

Bratvold added that having a student voice on the board was important because it created an opportunity for improvement that otherwise might not have happened.

This item reprinted with permission from Daily Herald, Prince Alberta, Saskatchewan