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Cyberbully plan lacks short-term focus, says Task Force chair

Almost one year after the report to government by the Cyberbullying Task Force, education minister Ramona Jennex unveiled the government’s new Action Plan on Wednesday.

The plan, said minister Jennex in a news release, “takes on bullying and cyberbullying to reduce incidents and help young people and families who feel the heartbreaking effects.”

"Parents care deeply about their children and want them to be happy, healthy, safe and successful," said Ms. Jennex. "Bullying can keep that from happening.”

"This plan takes on bullying and cyberbullying in many ways to get at the root causes of the behaviour and reduce its effects so our young people may one day see a world where bullying is rare."

The plan is already meeting with some criticism, including concern from Task Force chair Wayne MacKay, professor at Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University. The report, Respectful and Responsible Relationships: There's No App for That, made 85 recommendations to government.

The multiyear plan outlines far fewer actions to take on bullying and cyberbullying, including:

  • creating an information hub for young people, teacher, parents and community members so help and resources are easy to find and access
  • providing training for school staff to learn how to recognize mental health issues. Right now, all school support staff, such as bus drivers, are being trained to recognize and report bullying
  • organizing an annual conference on bullying and cyberbullying
  • providing grants to schools for professional development of curriculum resources for social and emotional learning that addresses bullying
  • requiring all school boards to report annually incidents of severely disruptive behaviour, including bullying and cyberbullying, to examine causes
  • host a symposium for police leaders in March
  • revising the Nova Scotia School Code of Conduct to identify bullying and cyberbullying behaviours
  • distributing materials on responsible cellphone use to customers entering a new contract. They involve families, schools, teachers, communities, police, health-care providers and several government departments.

"The magnitude of the problem is daunting and there are no simple solutions on the horizon,” said MacKay when he presented the Task Force report.

MacKay told reporters Thursday that he congratulated the government on what they have done in the Action Plan, but that he has concerns that the Plan has the look and feel of a final solution to the problem of bullying in schools.

MacKay said that his largest concern was a worry that there may be a lack of commitment by the Department of Education to addressing immediate needs in classrooms, rather than a more long-term approach.

He sees a lack in the plan of education for parents on the problems inherent in students using the internet and social media as an issue, as is the lack of clarification on school board jurisdiction over bullying which takes place with students when they are off school grounds.

“Children are suffering the effects of bullying now, MacKay told Global TV. “I would like to see more concrete commitment to making changes in classrooms now.”

The Restorative Approaches concept is good, added MacKay, but he would have like the minister and department to more clearly address the need for guidance counselors. “I recommended that there be an increased ratio of counselors to students,” he said. The Action Plan calls only for an “examination” of the ratio. “That’s already been examined,” he said.

He welcomed the hiring of an anti-bullying coordinator and an annual conference about the subject, but said he was worried that there was not enough new programs and new courses in classrooms in the short term.

The lack of guidance counselors noted by the Task Force is not likely to improve at any time soon, says a source within the education system. If and when the department does an "examination" of student to counselor ratio, they will likely find that there are currently far too few qualified professionals in the education system.

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