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School CP - June 1998

Toronto Star, 12 June 1998

MPP's bill proposes using force in schools

By Daniel Girard
Toronto Star Queen's Park Bureau

A bill critics say would pave the way for the return of the strap has been approved in principle by MPPs.

The private member's bill would allow teachers and school staff to use "as much reasonable force as necessary" against students.

Supporters of the proposed legislation immediately hailed it as a significant step toward safer schools, while opponents said it would mean a return to unnecessary violence against children and hearkened back to the era of the strap.

Education Minister Dave Johnson was unavailable for comment but his spokesperson Rita Smith called the bill "a good starting point for discussion on an issue that's very important to parents."

Johnson told reporters last month the ministry was looking at what "we can do to minimize violence in schools. It will certainly head toward a zero-tolerance type of policy."

The Safe Schools Act of Tory backbencher Dan Newman (Scarborough Centre) passed by a vote of 36-7 at Queen's Park yesterday, with all government MPPs and three of the Liberals on hand supporting it.

The bill was referred to a committee for public hearings. As with most private member's bills, however, it is unlikely to become law in its present form.

In addition to protecting teachers and school staff from civil liability in the use of "reasonable" force, the bill would also allow school staff to search for and confiscate prohibited items, make parents responsible for school vandalism by children under 18 and impose stiff trespassing penalties.

"This will make our schools much safer," Newman told reporters after the vote.

He insisted the bill doesn't open the door to "corporal punishment," but simply defines more narrowly for school staff provisions that are already in the Criminal Code.

"This allows for a teacher to use as much reasonable force as necessary to keep order in the school," he said. "It's not teachers going out there beating up students."

But Liberal MPP Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East) said the bill sends "a wrong message" that tells children it's okay to use force against one another or a teacher.

"I find it absolutely amazing and ironic that the intent of a bill that is to curb violence in schools advocates violence as a way of achieving that result," Agostino said.

An education ministry official said virtually all school boards in Ontario have banned the strap, which is a decision made locally, not at Queen's Park.

"This bill turns back the clock a good number of years," said NDP MPP Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold). "Someone's going to say that's a good thing ... This bill endorses corporal punishment."

Earl Manners, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, said the bill is unnecessary because much has been done in recent years by unions, police, community organizations and others in education to develop and implement anti-violence policies for school boards around the province.

"Violence in our schools is not the burning issue that it was five years ago," he said.

"This bill totally ignores what's already been done."

He argued that the bill clearly promotes "a more physical reaction to events rather than a more civilized response."

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