Derogatory and Homophobic Comments
A member contacts the Counselling and Member Services Department regarding a student who has been harassing other students in the classroom. The behavior consisted of repeated derogatory homophobic comments. The teacher reported this to the principal, who has said it is a classroom management issue, to be handled by the teacher.
Under the Safe Schools provisions of the Education Act, all staff, including the principal, must respond to incidents that have a negative impact on the school climate. These could include racist, sexist or homophobic comments, graffiti, vandalism, bullying or cyberbullying – incidents that are unacceptable in our schools.
The Keeping our Kids Safe at School Act, 2010 (also referred to as Bill 157) outlines the obligations of staff to respond to such incidents. The Accepting Schools Act, 2012 (also referred to as Bill 13) specifies certain circumstances related to bullying and activities that are motivated by bias, prejudice or hate as incidents that a principal is to investigate for suspension or possible expulsion.
As a result of these recent legislative changes, the requirement for all school staff to report incidents that can or will lead to suspension and/or expulsion, which includes derogatory or homophobic comments, is clear. The member is advised to report the behaviour by completing the Safe Schools Incident Reporting Form Part I.
The report should be provided to the principal in a timely manner, but no later than the end of the school day in which the incident occurred. Any witnesses to the behavior should be included in the report. A copy of the report should also be made and retained for the member’s own records. After a report is submitted, the principal must provide a written acknowledgement of the receipt of the report to the member/employee who reported the incident through the Ministry Safe Schools Incident Reporting Form – Part II.
Under Bill 13, section 300.2 of the Education Act was amended to require principals to investigate reported incidents of specified activities. The section also requires principals to communicate the results of an investigation to the teacher who reported it or, if reported by another employee, to that employee unless it would not be appropriate to do so.
The principal must identify if action has been taken or if no action is required. Possible actions can include anything on the progressive discipline continuum, such as a warning, contacting a parent, removal of privileges, or suspension. If action is taken, the form and documentation must be kept in the student’s Ontario Student Record (OSR) for a minimum of one year unless the board requires a longer period.
Section 310(1) of the Education Act outlines the circumstances in which a pupil must be suspended and considered for possible expulsion. For a more comprehensive list of infractions please consult your board policies, or the OECTA brochure “Safety in Schools Bill 157 – What You Need To Know,” and the Education Act, both of which are at OECTA.on.ca in the Contracts and Rights section, under Health and Safety, in Publications and resources.
Policy and Program Memorandum (PPM) 145 has also been revised to require that boards’ progressive discipline policies include a component on prevention and awareness raising, which includes professional development programs for teachers and other staff.