Trustees reject push to dive into data over London-area classroom violence

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Trustees have rejected a motion that would have given the region’s largest school board more information about violence, suspensions and expulsions in its classrooms, citing data inconsistencies and privacy issues.

It was London trustee Marianne Larsen who asked her Thames Valley District school board colleagues to agree to push for more school-safety data from 2022 and 2023, including the number of provincially mandated “safe school incident” reports and the number of students involved in them.

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“We need to get into a culture of making decisions based on evidence and data. We keep saying that, but here is an opportunity to do that together,” Larsen said at a debate this week. “With the other data we have, we will get a better picture of safety in our schools.”

Under provincial legislation, every time there’s an incident at a school where a suspension or expulsion could be considered, a safe school incident form must be completed by a staff member. In September, 2022, these forms became electronic, Larsen said.

Local union officials have reported a sharp rise in reported violence in London-area schools since the COVID-19 pandemic ended and the interruption to in-person learning ended.

Most of the incidents – which occur across the entire Thames Valley region – took place in elementary schools, said Craig Smith, president of the Thames Valley district of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.

A month ago board administration balked at retrieving safe school incidents due “to inconsistencies with the safe school reporting data.”

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Trustees pressed pause on Larsen’s motion amid concerns over privacy violations and the potential to use the information – despite not containing any identifiable student information – for unintended purposes.

Larsen said concerns over the information being flawed, inconsistent or incomplete is no reason to ignore it.

“When you’re doing research, you use multiple research sources to confirm your findings,” she said. “That is really, really important. It’s not a perfect picture, but it’s a better-than-nothing picture.”

Larsen also addressed concerns that use of the data would affect students’ privacy.

“I want to be absolutely clear here, the motion before you is not requesting any personal information,” she said.

But at least one trustee took issue with the use of incomplete data.

“I struggle with the whole bad data being better than no data,” said trustee Sherri Moore.

Trustee Sheri Polhill said she wouldn’t support the motion because she didn’t believe the “information provides us as a board anything that we can use in our governance role.”

In an emailed statement, school board chair Beth Mai said “the ethical use of information collected and respecting student privacy is fundamental for the organization.”

hrivers@postmedia.com

@HeatheratLFP

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