Mount Douglas secondary school. Google Maps

Number of suspensions declining in Greater Victoria school district

In wake of suspensions to Mount Douglas players, SD61 official says restorative practices used whenever possible

The fallout from a Mount Douglas secondary ‘prank gone awry’ has raised questions over discipline in the local school district.

Two football players (from the province’s top football program over the past decade) were suspended following a May incident that left the gear of a third player covered in urine.

School officials told the Saanich News that the offending players were alone in the team’s locker room when they intentionally sprayed the gear with a water bottle which, unbeknownst to them, contained urine.

Principal Shawn Boulding confirmed the incident at the time, but wouldn’t confirm the length of the suspensions, except to say that they were shorter than five days.

Under SD61’s disciplinary process, principals have the discretion to apply suspensions as they see fit. Anything above five days triggers a committee process with the principal and two more administrative figures from within the district (in this case, the district was made aware of the incident).

In total, it’s believed one of the suspensions was served in-school, and that both players will miss a few preseason games when the season starts in September (this would not be confirmed by the team coach). The football program’s spring training season was also shutdown in May, albeit temporarily.

It’s part of a shift the education system has made from handing out disciplinary suspensions to becoming proactive with the students, said Greg Kitchen, associate superintendent with the Greater Victoria School District.

“One of the things that has changed over time is that school districts have gotten better at addressing behaviour issues and are using suspensions less frequently,” Kitchen said, adding the district doesn’t release the numbers and lengths of suspensions. “We wrap around the students instead of pushing them away.”

Case in point, on May 24, the football team held a healing circle for the entire team.

“Do we still suspend students? Yes, but [suspensions] are less frequent than they were in past times,” Kitchen added. “We use restorative practices and restitution when possible.”

The latter is not always practical, as victims are often disinterested in sharing a room with the perpetrator of the act.

District superintendent Piet Langstraat is not involved in case-by-case disciplinary hearings but can be called upon in the case of an appeal. He noted that one of the challenges with modern discipline is when to define actions as bullying instead of conflict.

Bullying is an imbalance of power, while conflict between two individuals can also be characterized as bullying, he said.

In this case, Boulding and coach Mark Townsend didn’t believe the incident was a case of bullying, referring to the urine incident as a prank gone awry.

There are a number of student support programs available through SD61 and the Ministry of Education. There are youth and family councillors, the Discovery program for substance use and abuse with Island Health (each school has a discovery counsellor).

There are child youth mental health workers in our schools. There’s the diversion program, where the parents, the student and the school work through a process to resolve issues.

There’s Friends for Life, sponsored by the Ministry of Children and Family, deals with student anxiety for kindergarten to Grade 3, and Grades 4 to 7.

There’s the Roots of Empathy in eight local elementary schools where a youth is brought into a class and the students grow a bond with them. There are suicide prevention and recognition training programs.

There’s the Wellahead program, supported by McConnell Foundation, for heart and mind issues. There are violent risk threat assessments, with people trained in recognizing indicators of danger, and if they’re escalating.

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