An independent committee examining the social and cultural practices at St. Michael’s College School, a prestigious private school in Toronto rocked by allegations of sexual assault by students, is recommending that the school’s football programs be reinstated for the next academic year.
The four-member committee addressed the school community Wednesday evening, outlining some of its survey results on bullying and hazing and putting forward what it described as a time-sensitive recommendation.
Mark Sandler, a prominent lawyer and chair of the school’s respect and culture review committee, said the recommendation to reinstate the football programs for the coming academic year needed to be done early so the school could implement it. But the recommendation, he said, comes with “important safeguards,” which include the training and education of students, staff and coaches.
“Our view is that we are going to be able to provide the school with a series of measures that will better address the interest of the entire student body, including those who’ve been victimized, without necessarily cancelling the football program,” Mr. Sandler said in an interview with The Globe and Mail prior to the meeting. “We will identify what those measures are in our report.”
The school had announced that the football programs would be cancelled for the current school year and the 2019-20 school year after a series of incidents in the fall that led to seven students from the school being charged. The basketball program was originally suspended, though it was later reinstated.
Six students face sex-assault charges after an investigation into alleged incidents at St. Mike’s. A seventh student charged is being dealt with separately.
The charges stem from alleged incidents that occurred at the school in the fall term and were related to one sports team.
The identities of the accused and the victims are protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Lianne Castelino, St. Mike’s spokeswoman, said in an e-mail on Wednesday that the school did not have a comment on the panel’s findings and recommendation.
Mr. Sandler said that a number of parents told the panel that it was unfair to cancel the football programs for several reasons, including the value and character-building associated with sport and how it benefits students academically.
In his presentation to the community, Mr. Sandler said “we are satisfied that in the upcoming year, the reinstatement of the football programs, if and only if it is coupled with effective measures to prevent or address hazing in particular and bullying more generally, can better serve the student body while promoting a safe and healthy environment within the school.”
The committee shared the results of its anonymous surveys that were completed by current students, alumni and parents.
It found that hazing is not prominent in the school’s culture. About 5 per cent of current students reported being hazed.
A slightly larger percentage of current students – 22 per cent – described being victims of sexual, physical and verbal bullying, which the panel found is comparable to the levels reported by boys of similar ages across the country. “The surveys revealed that bullying has had a profound impact on most of these students,” Mr. Sandler told the community on Wednesday.
Mr. Sandler said that the committee has been asked by students and the community to make recommendations on a wide range of issues from school governance to how and when discipline is administered. A final report, which will address several issues and make recommendations, is expected midsummer, he said.
Along with Mr. Sandler, the panel’s members are Debra Pepler, whose research has focused on bullying and victimization among children and adolescents, Ontario’s former deputy minister of education, Bruce Rodrigues, and Priti Sachdeva, former legal counsel at the Office of the Children’s Lawyer whose practice focused on areas of law affecting children.
The school formed the panel that would examine student conduct and the culture of the school in the weeks after police began investigating incidents at St. Mike’s. The police investigation was sparked by media inquires, and saw the resignation of both the school’s principal and president.