HALIFAX – A review of the Halifax school board’s handling of the Rehtaeh Parsons case could lead to revised anti-bullying guidelines to help schools prevent a similar tragedy, a panellist said Monday.
“We’re really hoping to move forward and look at how we could prevent something like this from ever happening again,” said Debra Pepler, a professor at York University in Toronto.
“We hope we’ll be able to provide some guidelines so students who struggle are supported and recognized in a different way.”
Pepler and Penny Milton, the former CEO of the Canadian Education Association, were appointed by the Nova Scotia government to look into the Parsons case.
The pair presented an interim report Monday on the scope of their review. It lays out 10 questions they want to answer on anti-bullying programs following the teenager’s death.
The report says the panellists will focus on whether existing policies, procedures and training on cyberbullying in Halifax schools are adequate.
Pepler and Milton will also look at support services provided by schools, the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, the Capital District Health Authority and the police for people who are bullied.
Parsons committed suicide in April. The 17-year-old girl’s family alleges she was sexually assaulted in 2011 and a digital photo of the incident was shared around her school.
Both panellists said they will leave fact finding to the police, who are still investigating the case.
They also said the final report will not specifically identify who spoke to the panel or assign blame.
“To support openness and frank discussions, all participants have been assured that all conversations will be confidential,” Pepler and Milton wrote in their interim report.
“We have been asked whether we will name names or assign blame. We will not.”
The panel will look at the co-ordination of services for people who are bullied and determine what level of understanding school staff have of those services.
Milton said she will speak to the principals of the schools Parsons attended, the superintendents of school boards, a group of student council representatives and a group of high school teachers.
She said some of the teachers interviewed had taught Parsons directly, while others were chosen because they will participate in forming anti-bullying policies.
School board chairman Gin Yee said he is open to policy changes.
“If there was an issue that we can learn from the Parsons case, I’m personally open to making some changes,” he said.
“If there were mistakes made, we’ll learn from them.”
The report says Parsons’ parents will be invited to speak to the panellists.
Leah Parsons, Rehtaeh’s mother, said in an email that the family is “cautiously optimistic” about the review.
However, she said she is waiting to see the final outcomes the review produces.
Pepler and Milton plan to deliver their final report on June 14.