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Predicting death in your child’s school in 2023, part four | Marvin Zuker

Monday, January 23, 2023 @ 2:19 PM | By Marvin Zuker

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Marvin Zuker %>
Marvin Zuker
The European Union (EU) is a group of 27 countries that work together.

The EU governments have made certain promises so that children can have a good life: they promised to promote children’s rights. Children have a right to be safe, to play, to learn and to have a say, for example.

The EU has a plan about how to ensure that children have a happy and healthy life: this plan is called the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child.  When preparing this plan, the EU asked 10,000 children what they thought should be in the strategy. A lot of children said that they would like to have a say in matters that concern them, and that they would like decision-makers to listen to their opinion.

The EU then included in the strategy that children will have the opportunity to have their voices heard. A very important pillar in this document is children’s right to participate in policymaking.

To make sure that children’s voices are heard, the EU is creating a child participation platform. The platform will be a safe place for all children where they can share with decision-makers what they think about important matters that concern all of us. Children can contact each other, interact, discuss and learn about their rights.

The platform, expected to be fully operational in early 2023, will be a place where children can learn about laws and policies in a child-friendly language. Children will also be able to get in touch with organizations (for example children’s councils on a local level, or children’s parliaments) close to the place where they live.

This platform is for the children from 5 to 18 years old, parents, citizens, governmental and non/governmental organizations. The platform wants to connect existing children’s parliaments, children’s councils (on local/city/municipality level), ombudspersons for children and all organizations who believe children should have their voices heard.

Taking action

In a situation involving elementary students, space still needs to be created for regular discussion. We must encourage our children to work with adults, to write about their experiences. If the event comes up in a class discussion, acknowledge the student and ensure they are offered the opportunity to talk about it with an adult support person. Parents should be consulted on developmentally appropriate conversations with students.

The manner in which students conduct themselves in school is a major factor in establishing and maintaining a safe and respectful school community. To promote positive student behaviour, all members of the school community — students, staff and parents — must know and understand, the standards of behaviour, codes of conduct and use of social media that all students are expected to live up to, the supports and interventions that will be used to address misconduct and the disciplinary responses if behavioural standards are not met.

All teachers and staff must affirm clear and consistent behavioural expectations that set the tone for a safe and respectful school community. Teachers and staff must be firm, fair and consistent in addressing student behaviour in a manner that enables students to learn from their mistakes and be accountable for their misconduct.

Students, parents and school personnel have a role in making schools safe and must work together to achieve this goal. School staff should keep parents informed of their child’s behaviour and engage parents as partners in addressing areas of concern. Outreach to parents can include a phone call, an in-person conference and written communication. To ensure that parents are able, encouraged and supported to become active and involved partners in promoting a safe, supportive school environment, they should become familiar with a school and board’s code of conduct. Religion practices, be they a smudging event or an Indigenous hoop dance, reflect a recognition of our cultural differences (Servatius v. Alberni School District No. 70, [2022] B.C.J. No. 2390).

Attendance at school is crucial to a student’s academic progress and success. School staff must ensure that appropriate outreach, intervention and supports are provided for students with patterns of absences.

Restorative practices must be mandated by regulation under the Education Act. All members of a school community bring with them diverse abilities, interests, viewpoints and family and cultural backgrounds. Using restorative practices to foster positive interpersonal and intergroup relations and to address inappropriate behaviour when it occurs is a cornerstone of a progressive approach to discipline.

A new provincial policy memorandum (PPM) is long overdue by the Ministry of Education. A restorative approach to discipline changes the fundamental questions that are asked when a behavioural incident occurs. Unfortunately, these are not addressed by PPM144 and PPM145.

Instead of asking who is to blame and how those engaged in the misbehaviour will be punished, a restorative approach asks four main questions:

  • What happened?
  • Who was harmed or affected by the behaviour?
  • What needs to be done to make things right?
  • How can people behave differently in the future?

Regular use of restorative circles within the instructional program of a school is a significant prevention and intervention strategy. The circle process enables a group to build relationships, establish understanding and trust, create a sense of community, learn how to make decisions together, develop agreements for the mutual good, resolve difficult issues and address other issues as they arise.

Community building circles focus on:

  • Safety and trust. Community members need a sense of safety and trust to connect with one another;
  • Honour. Members interact with fairness and integrity and acknowledge their personal responsibility for their actions;
  • Openness. Community members feel free to share their thoughts and feelings;
  • Respect. To bond as a community, members must feel they are valued and respected as individuals, and they must respond respectfully to one another;
  • Empowerment.  A sense of empowerment is a crucial element and a desired outcome of being a member of a community. Community support enables members to gain a new view of themselves and a new sense of confidence in their abilities.

If we want our schools to be a place where our children, parents and staff feel a sense of belonging and trust, we need to commit to building community and provide restorative practices with behaviour intervention. We need to learn, or relearn, to be relationship-centred. We need to create spaces where we can all speak from the heart and be known to each other. We need to take the time to have difficult conversations, show students the impacts of their behaviour and commit ourselves to their futures.

This is the fourth instalment of a five-part series. Part one: Predicting death in your child’s school in 2023: March for our lives. Part two: Predicting death in your child’s school in 2023, part two. Part three: Predicting death in your child’s school in 2023, part three.

Marvin Zuker was a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice, where he presided over the small claims, family and criminal courts from 1978 until his retirement in 2016. He is associate professor at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto, where he teaches education law. Zuker is the author and co-author of many books and publications, including The Law is Not for Women and The Law is (Not) for Kids.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's firm, its clients, 
The Lawyer’s Daily, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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