According to Vancouver Island school board officials, the tragic death of Amanda Todd is a “teachable moment.”
“It makes us stop and think and ask whether we’re doing enough and what more we can do,” says Deborah Courville, the associate superintendent for the Greater Victoria School District.
Todd is the 15-year-old Coquitlam teen who took her own life after posting a nine-minute YouTube video detailing years of online harassment. Her suicide has sparked a number of online controversies, and led one NDP MP to call for a national anti-bullying program.
In the wake of Todd’s death, Courville says the school district is working to develop “age appropriate” content that addresses issues of online safety.
“As long as we have students being bullied, either in person or on social media, then we need to keep the conversation going,” she said. “We need to be talking to our students to be clear whether they’re getting the message.”
In the neighbouring Saanich School District, officials are planning a discussion forum with students, parents and the Saanich police to address concerns stemming from Todd’s death. The date hasn’t been set, but assistant superintendent Nancy Macdonald says it will take place on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening in November.
“What’s different about this is that it will be parents and kids in the forum together,” Macdonald says. “We really believe parents have to be in this with us. We need parents on board because so much of cyber-bullying happens at home.”
Macdonald says the Saanich district already has “threat assessment teams” at both the school and district level whose job it is to monitor whether bullying is happening in the schoolyard or on the Internet.
“If a video such as the Amanda Todd video was circulating, we have a team to address that,” she said, adding that her own daughter had seen the footage before the story broke in the media.
After she heard about Todd’s suicide, Macdonald says she e-mailed the district’s Internet policy to local principals with “explicit instructions to open it, read it and share it.”
Macdonald admits that social media “has created a private environment for kids” that is difficult for parents and teachers to monitor, but says the solution isn’t to restrict students’ access to the Internet.
“Creating a lot of big rules isn’t always going to work, because rules don’t change behaviours,” she says. “We need to show them the positive uses of the Internet and talk about the choices that could affect them negatively.”
Mcdonald says Saanich School District is taking steps to implement the ERASE (Expect Respect and Safe Education) Bullying strategy which was announced by Premier Christy Clark in June. The ten-point plan calls for a number of initiatives, including stronger codes of conduct for schools and a mobile application that would let students report bullying anonymously using their cellphones.