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For Educators

What is Bullying?

Ontario’s provincial legislation defines bullying as: repeated aggressive behaviour by a student where the behaviour is intended to have the effect of, or the student ought to know that the behaviour would be likely to have the effect of, causing harm, fear or distress to another individual. Bullying can take many forms, including physical, psychological, social or academic harm, and harm to an individual’s reputation or property. The bullying may also create a negative environment at a school for an individual. The bullying occurs in a relationship where there is a real or perceived power imbalance based on factors such as size; disability; sexual orientation; gender identity; sexuality; race/ethnicity/religion; or other issues.

What is Cyberbullying?

According to Ontario’s legislation, cyber-bullying occurs when a student engages in bullying behaviour electronically, and includes activities such as: creating a web page or a blog while pretending to be someone else; impersonating another person as the author of posted content or messages; or communicating material or messages to more than one person or posting on an electronic platform that can be accessed by one or more persons. 

Bullying and the Ontario Law

In Ontario, there is a formal legislation on bullying and cyberbullying, Bill 13 Accepting Schools Act, 2012: An Act to amend the Education Act with respect to bullying and other matters. The bill states the rights and responsibilities of teachers, schools, school boards, other school board employees, and ministries when preventing or dealing with bullying and cyberbullying instances. The law pertains to all incidents of bullying and cyberbullying that affect the school’s learning climate, whether on or off school property, face-to-face or electronic.

 For more details on cyberbullying legislation, including federal legislation, please visit: Legal Consequences of Cyberbullying 

Legal Requirements for Private Schools in Ontario

Under The Education Act, private schools in Ontario are considered distinct from other schools and operate as businesses or non-profit organizations independently of the Ministry of Education. There is no specific legislation regarding bullying or cyberbullying for private schools. However, Bill 13 requires compliance by other persons or entities that use publicly funded school facilities (through rental or other agreements). This means that if a private school competes in athletics or other competitions that take place in publicly funded school facilities, or accesses school facilities such as classrooms, they are required to comply with Bill 13 in their operations.

What Legally Constitutes Bullying and Cyberbullying in Schools?

Bullying is considered to have occurred in a school if it happens: on a school site or public property within 50 metres of a school site; during an activity, function or program that is conducted for school purposes, regardless of whether it takes place at a school site; or through the use of technology or an electronic device provided to students by the school.

Bullying also occurs at a school if it happens through the use of technology or a device that is not provided to students by the school but has the effect of creating a hostile environment for a student at school, infringes on the legal rights of a student at school, or disrupts the education process or operation of a school. This expanded definition of bullying means that even if cyber-bullying occurs outside of school hours or away from school property educators still have an obligation to address incidents of bullying that affect a student’s learning environment.  

Bullying and Cyberbullying Prevention

Educators share responsibility with parents and other adults in students’ lives to nurture the development of the social emotional skills that students need to engage in healthy relationships, and to teach students that bullying is wrong and unacceptable. 

Obligations of School Staff

All school staff who work directly with students have an obligation to respond to and report incidents that can have a negative impact on the school climate. This includes principals and vice principals, teachers, educational assistants and all other staff employed by the school board, such as those involved in social work, child and youth work, psychology and other related disciplines. 

At the Classroom/School Level:

  • You are expected to report a bullying matter to the principal of the school as soon as you become aware of a student engaging in bullying or cyberbullying activities.

At the School Board Level:

  • School boards are expected to establish board-level policies and guidelines with respect to bullying and cyberbullying prevention and intervention in schools.
  • School boards are expected to consult with and ask for input from students, parents/ guardians, and the public when planning bullying prevention and intervention activities in schools.
  • School boards are expected to implement and periodically review the bullying prevention and intervention plan.
  • School boards are expected to make the bullying and cyberbullying prevention and intervention activities plan available to the public.
  •  School boards may be required to develop and implement an equity and inclusive education policy at the discretion of the Minister.

At the Ministry of Education Level:

  • The Ministry is expected to develop a model bullying and cyberbullying prevention and intervention plan to assist individual school boards in establishing their own bullying and cyberbullying prevention and intervention activities.
  • The Ministry is expected to make information about the number of reported suspensions and expulsions with respect to bullying and cyberbullying incidents available to parents/guardians.

When a bullying or cyberbullying situation occurs

At the Classroom/School Level:

  • If you witness an incident you are expected to respond unless doing so would cause immediate physical harm to yourself, a student or any other person. Reponses may include: identifying the behaviour, asking the student to stop the inappropriate behaviour, explaining why it is inappropriate or disrespectful and asking the student to change their behaviour in the future.

  • The school principal is responsible for investigating reported incidents of bullying or cyberbullying activities.

    The school principal is responsible for communicating the results of the investigation to the teacher or school board employee who reported the incident unless it would be inappropriate to do so. 

  • The school principal is responsible for notifying parents/guardians of involved students the results of the investigation. The principal should explain:
  1. the nature of the bullying or cyberbullying activity – although personal information about the student who bullied may not be disclosed;
  2. the nature of the harm;
  3. the nature of any disciplinary measures taken in response to the bullying or cyberbullying incident;
  4. the supports that will be provided for the student who was bullied or cyberbullied.
  • The school principal is responsible for inviting parents or guardians to have a discussion about the supports that will be provided for the student who was bullied or cyberbullied to ensure that he or she feels safe at school.

At the Ministry of Education Level:

  • The Ministry of Education is responsible for making policies and guidelines regarding:
  1. the discipline of students engaging in bullying behaviours including cyberbullying;
  2. the form, content, and timing of reports on bullying or cyberbullying incidents;
  3. the provision of a framework to identify student behaviours that are inappropriate and that require disciplinary consequences;
  4. the provision of a framework to help students who have bullied to develop healthy relationships and make good choices so they can continue their learning and achieve success.
  • The Ministry of Education is responsible for establishing clear policies on training all teachers and school staff to:
  1. support students who have been bullied or cyberbullied, witnessed bullying or cyberbullying, or engaged in bullying or cyberbullying;
  2. increase their ability to respond to inappropriate student behaviours in schools.
  • The Ministry of Education is responsible for establishing policies and procedures that:
  1. allow parents and guardians to report incidents of bullying and cyberbullying;
  2. follow up with parents and guardians with the concerns about their children and bullying or cyberbullying incidents in an appropriate and a timely manner.
  • The Ministry of Education is responsible for establishing policies and procedures that :
  1. allow parents and guardians to report incidents of bullying;
  2. allocate resources to support students who engage in and/or are impacted by bullying and/or cyberbullying behaviours;
  3. provide a process for parents and guardians to follow if they have concerns about the supports being provided to their child.

And finally,

Remember to consider your own behaviour, despite any disagreements or hostility you may encounter. Children and youth closely watch what the adults in their life do and are influenced as much by your actions as your words. When students see you being respectful and empathetic towards others, even when you disagree, they are more likely to behave the same way.

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