Why an Action Plan
For a more objective, pragmatic representation of the phenomenon of violence in Québec schools
In Québec, the media often report on gang violence, violence in the schools, or street violence perpetrated by youth. In 2002, the World Health Organization stated that violence among young people is one of the most visible forms of violence in society. In addition, several surveys carried out in Canada and in the United States show that people are witnessing an increase in criminal acts, specifically in crimes committed by young people. However, since the early 1990s, both countries have seen a significant drop in the number of acts of violence recognized and tried in youth court (Ouimet 2004).
No rigorous study has confirmed that students today are more violent than their predecessors (Beaumont, 2007). In fact, indexed studies have shown that student behaviour has not deteriorated (Achenbach and Howell, 1993; Verhulst, Van der Ende and Rietbergen, 1997; Achenbach, Dumenci and Rescoria, 2002; Beaumont, Couture, Fortin and Bourdon, 2009). This reveals a discrepancy between public opinion and the observations of the scientific community.
Does this mean that violence in the schools is a myth? Not at all. The cases reported by the media and by different stakeholders in the school community are quite real. Many authors agree that while there is a problem of violence in the schools, in Québec there is no database to document the scope, diversity, frequency or evolution of the problem. Whatever the number or frequency of violent acts in the schools, it is unacceptable for students to be threatened in the schoolyard or hit on the school bus, for personnel to be insulted, for staff to ridicule certain students or for school property to be vandalized.
Taking a systemic look at these issues is an essential step in defining and describing the current situation of violence on the local, regional and provincial scale. Some of the measures outlined in the action plan, specifically the provincial report, the manifestations and the monitoring system, will provide a more objective, pragmatic picture of the manifestations of violence in the schools and will help to better orient the measures for preventing and dealing with violence.
To integrate the actions into the concerns and activities of the school
School communities face different manifestations of violence, such as intimidation, taxing, discrimination, homophobia, racism, physical violence and street gang violence, occurring in places such as the classroom, the schoolyard and the school bus, on the Internet (cyber bullying) and in video games. These forms of violence may occur between peers, between young people and adults, and vice versa. School staff may feel helpless and alone facing the task before them. This is why all stakeholders must work together to put a stop to violence.
To this end, schools have been equipped with two tools to ensure comprehensive, integrated and concerted interventions: an educational project and a success plan. These are important tools to be used in mobilizing the school team, structuring priority actions to prevent and deal with violence and determining the objectives to be set, the means to be implemented and the conditions for success, as well as the means to evaluate the impact of these efforts. The chosen means may be based on the Québec Education Program as well as on the complementary educational services programs.
The complementary educational services outlined in the Education Act and the Basic school regulation are organized as integrated services programs and give school boards and schools the opportunity to establish different strategies to meet the needs of students in terms of violence prevention. Thus, the means proposed may allow students to make choices about their health and well-being, and encourage them to participate in awareness-raising activities dealing with different issues so that they can explore new avenues and find new ways to protect themselves from danger and abuse. In this type of action, a special role is reserved for psychoeducators, psychologists, special education technicians, and spiritual care and guidance and community involvement animators.
Through this action plan, the Ministère would like the measures to prevent and deal with violence to be more focused, structured and integrated into the current concerns and activities of the education community. This plan should help schools to intervene more effectively when faced with different manifestations of violence, to structure their actions in a process based on careful reflection and rooted in the school's success plan. This is the attitude suggested by MEES and the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux (MSSS) in the Healthy Schools Approach.
To prevent violence and to work together: violence affects us all
Over the past several years, the Ministère has applied different measures to prevent violence and has collaborated on different actions, such as the following:
- in each region, setting up support and expertise resources for students with behavioural difficulties
- developing the New Approaches, New Solutions (NANS) strategy in disadvantaged neighbourhoods
- collaborating on the Plan d’intervention québécois sur les gangs de rue 2007‑2010 implemented by the Ministère de la Sécurité publique, a plan that shows the government's willingness to coherently coordinate the efforts of several government departments in the fight against organized crime through preventive action
- participating in the interministerial committee to support different funding programs to fight crime
- participating in the Provincial consultation panel on violence, youth and the school environment
- participating in the Table nationale de lutte à l’homophobie (provincial panel against homophobia)
- implementing certain measures in the National Action Plan Against Sexual Assault
In addition, school boards and schools are taking several relevant, beneficial actions at different levels. For example:
- implementing local action plans to prevent violence
- implementing NANS
- hiring professional specialists to support staff and students
- developing tools, programs and intervention protocols dealing with the different manifestations of violence in the schools
- developing emergency plans for different situations that threaten the safety of the students and adults at the school
- working with the police (e.g. Police Presence in Educational Institutions)
- implementing the Healthy Schools approach
- organizing forums
However, in spite of the efforts carried out at different levels, no one strategy seems to foster the development of a healthy and safe environment and the adoption of socially acceptable behaviour. A comprehensive, integrated, joint approach is required, and the means must be adapted to the environment in which they are applied. To this end, several measures of the action plan provide support and guidance to schools and school boards in the implementation of a coherent, structured process to prevent and deal with violence, such as hiring a regional support officer, setting up a regional resource group, and providing training sessions, reference tools and a local intervention strategy.
Through these measures, the action plan highlights the prevention aspect of the actions to be taken to contribute to a healthy, safe environment conducive to student success. Schools and school boards are invited to reflect on this aspect, both in terms of their organization and in terms of more specific interventions such as emergency measures.
However, schools cannot act alone. This is why this plan proposes means to establish and strengthen the connections among families, community organizations and the government agencies concerned with this issue. Measures such as creating an interministerial joint action committee, holding a provincial forum, developing local intervention strategies and providing support and guidance services for suspended or expelled students can help schools and partners work together on actions to be taken or improved upon to better prevent and deal with violence.