Government challenged to take action after P.E.I. high school student protest

·3 min read
Government challenged to take action after P.E.I. high school student protest
About 200 students protested in Charlottetown on Tuesday. (Kirk Pennell/CBC - image credit)
About 200 students protested in Charlottetown on Tuesday. (Kirk Pennell/CBC - image credit)

The P.E.I. Legislature was the scene of questions about the treatment of female students Wednesday, a day after hundreds of Charlottetown high school students walked out of class to protest how complaints are being handled.

Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker began question period with a question he said was written by one of the demonstrators.

"How are girls supposed to feel safe enough to come forward ... when the school has proven time and time again that they will not protect us?" he asked the premier.

Bevan-Baker went on to read aloud comments Island students had made to the child and youth advocate for a recent report on bullying and homophobia in the classroom. They included:

  • "Girls' asses get smacked hard. You can hear it. It's a competition to get the most, and feel us up to see what kind of underwear we are wearing."

  • "This is normal. This happens every day … Adults just blame Snapchat or TikTok and say that boys will be boys."

  • "It feels like we are stuck in the 80s because nothing has evolved."

Education Minister Natalie Jameson responded by saying that even before Tuesday's walkout, staff had planned to use an upcoming professional development (PD) day to deliver training on appropriate responses to complaints about harassment at P.E.I. schools.

"We have a lot of work to do as a society and as a school system," she told MLAs.

Jameson also said that Public Schools Branch staff were at Charlottetown Rural Wednesday, as was a counselling consultant, adding that a support centre would be set up for "the next number of days and weeks."

Treatment called inappropriate

At midday Tuesday, the students lined University Avenue near UPEI to call attention to their concerns.

The event was organized on social media by female students from Charlottetown Rural and Colonel Gray high schools who say they're tired of being treated differently than boys in their classes.

They say they are subject to inappropriate comments from male teachers and held to more stringent dress code standards.

They say harassment and unwanted touching from some male students has been allowed to continue. And when complaints are made, they say the response by school administrators and the Public Schools Branch falls short of what they'd like to see.

CBC News: Compass acting host Steve Bruce spoke with PSB director Norbert Carpenter on Wednesday, asking when the board was first made aware of issues at Charlottetown Rural that led student Kennedy Curley to begin to organize the protest.

"Any ones that were dealt with in the past were addressed," he said. "Over the weekend just past, we learned of some more concerns that were raised."

Carpenter stressed there was a need to keep details of any specific case "strictly confidential," however. "I saw some of the demonstration, and I have to say, that took a lot of courage," he added.

"What seems like an event that created a lot of heat actually can create a lot of light.

"Yes, we're a microcosm of society. But schools have the opportunity to do better. And I think that's what we need to do, and we're prepared to do that in the short term and in the long term."

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