Making our classrooms and schools safer

 By MPP Toby Barrett

During parliamentary debate, I had the opportunity to make comment on Bill 48, Safe and Supportive Classrooms Act. I did not come at it from any ideology but rather my perspective as a former high school teacher at Simcoe Composite School.

I led off my debate with a question to all present in the House that day: What’s seven times eight? A friend of mine is an ironworker and whenever he runs into a young person, he asks, “What’s seven times eight?” He trains ironworkers. He needs the best and the union needs the best to attract employment for its success.

My point – Bill 48 will require math testing for new teachers. Over the past five years, math test scores have been declining. Despite efforts by the previous government, the trend has not reversed and so our government decided to take action.

A good start to increasing math scores is to ensure those teaching math have a solid understanding of the field themselves. Mathematics is paramount for employment, not only as an ironworker, or a boilermaker, or pipe fitter, but also in the STEM  fields – science, technology, engineering, mathematics. People ages 25-34 in those fields make on average $75,000 a year. In the non-STEM fields – arts, social science – you are looking at a salary of around $58,000.

Bill 48 addresses the use of service dogs. Like many, I have attended numerous Lions events and fundraisers to support service dogs. Service dogs are essentially the eyes for the blind and the visually impaired. These wonderful animals help warn of impending seizures and assist children with other special needs, such as autism spectrum disorder and mental health.

With a title like Safe and Supportive Classrooms, it is imperative this proposed legislation requires both the Ontario College of Teachers and the College of Early Childhood Educators to revoke an educator’s certificate if they are found guilty under allegations of sexual abuse of a student or a child.

I know in previous legislation, only a year or so ago, we were talking about these things and dealing with very significant and inappropriate behaviour by teachers or, by extension, other employees of a school board. Our new administration feels the previous government did not go far enough.

During debate, there was mention of a Toronto Star article from earlier this year where they shed light on a situation whereby a teacher had sexually harassed a colleague but then transferred quietly to another school. Then that teacher, according to The Star, was engaged in a significantly inappropriate relationship with a student. The teacher pleaded guilty to psychological and sexual abuse of the student, but he retained his licence.

There is clearly something wrong with this picture – and our goal is amended legislation that will prevent this from happening in our classrooms. In conjunction with legislation that ensures guide dogs are welcome in all schools, as well as, having students and teachers proficient in mathematics.

We must prepare students for the future, whether it is for post secondary education or for the labour market. In order to do that we must be providing the best education possible. Our students deserve this and the future labour market demands it.

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk