By Maggie Macintosh
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The St. James-Assiniboia School Division’s biannual reports on student suspensions will now include specific details on disciplinary actions taken against children in foster care throughout the academic year.
Following years of discussion on the subject, SJASD trustees approved a motion to require administrators to regularly report on the number of youth involved in Child and Family Services who are suspended from school.
All trustees in attendance at a public board meeting this week, except for Bruce Chegus, who cited procedural concerns, voted in favour of the request.
“I believe that we, as an institution of the state, have an extra responsibility to kids in care, above and beyond other children because oftentimes, when they are in care, they may be lacking some sort of tenacious advocate,” said trustee Holly Hunter. “We, as trustees, have to be an advocate for them.”
SJASD principals must promptly document any suspension and give their superintendent a written report about it within 24 hours, per division policy, which promotes “positive and preventative
The superintendent is required to compile incidents into a report and deliver it to the board every January and September. The update must include in- and out-of-school suspensions, incident types, serious incidents broken down by level and school, and from now on, information on children taken into CFS care.
During a board meeting Tuesday, Hunter gave an impassioned speech about her dual identities, as a trustee in the East Ward and Seven Oaks teacher, shaping her view on the education system’s “duty and moral responsibility” to look out for students in care.
The educator spoke about countless studies that have found children in care have worse academic outcomes than their peers and the over-representation of Indigenous students in foster care homes.
Indigenous children accounted for about eight per cent of all youth aged 14 and younger in Canada in 2021, yet made up nearly 54 per cent of all children in foster care, according to a Statistics Canada report released last month.
Manitoba has long had some of the highest rates of children in care, about 90 per cent of whom are Indigenous, in the country.
“Over and over again, the education system has failed children that have been removed from their families, the most glaring example of this is the residential school system. However, we continue to fail kids in care,” Hunter told her colleagues.
Hunter, a candidate in the upcoming election, said this small change will empower the next board with the numbers they need to ask tough questions and ensure they are supporting children in care. At the same time, she acknowledged data only tells part of a story.
Nicole Bowering, who also serves in the East Ward, endorsed her colleague’s motion.
“This is helpful information so that we can better program and ensure more positive outcomes for all students,” said Bowering, who is not running for re-election.
A division spokesperson said the disciplinary reports are shared to uncover and monitor trends in suspensions and determine what resources are needed to support staff, and by extension, students.
Last year, the Winnipeg School Division published a comprehensive review of its recent suspension data, with race-based statistics.
While children in care represent five per cent of all WSD learners, they accounted for 12-14 per cent of those who were suspended annually, between 2016-17 and 2019-19.
SJASD’s twice-yearly document is not broken down by gender, ethnicity or socio-economic circumstances.
Senior administration declined to share the latest edition, citing it being released to trustees in-camera.
Acting superintendent Jenness Moffatt said progressive discipline is a shared responsibility and when issues come up, students in care are often supported with “personalized learning discipline experiences.”
“It’s often no more than 1.5 per cent of our student population who receive disciplinary action such as suspension, as it is seen as a last move to kind of rectify a behavioural concern and is not considered a long-term and/or sustainable action to support students,” Moffatt added, during the meeting late Tuesday.
The board first requested the division provide CFS-involved student data in 2019. An SJASD spokesperson said administrators found most suspensions did not include students in care at the time.
Maggie Macintosh is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the
WINNIPEG FREE PRESS. The LJI is federally funded. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI funding.