Manitoba's government and the opposition Progressive Conservatives urged Manitobans to participate in two separate online surveys to help shed light on bullying in schools.
The PCs are to launch a survey on the party’s website early next week. The survey’s results are to help the PCs propose amendments to Bill 18, the Public Schools Amendment Act (Safe and Inclusive Schools).
"We will consult broadly," PC Leader Brian Pallister said today. "We will ask teachers and people involved in school administration for their views. Parent councils will be asked. But most importantly, we’ll go straight to the children of this province and ask them how they feel this problem can be best addressed."
Pallister made his announcement an hour before Education Minister Nancy Allan said the NDP is continuing to conduct its own school survey Tell Them From Me on bullying.
"We want to empower students to be a part of making their schools safe and respectful places for all students," Allan said in a statement. "This online survey gives students a voice and schools can learn directly from students what is working and where improvements are needed to improve safety. Making this new tool available is part of our government's anti-bullying action plan to make our schools safer, more tolerant environments where all students feel safe and can succeed."
The Tell Them From Me survey allows students in grades 4 to 12 to provide input into school safety anonymously. The information will be gathered and made available to the school's administration.
The survey will be made available to 550 schools across the province schools beginning in the fall of 2013, the province says. Schools will survey their students one to two times a year.
The province will also hold a safe schools leadership forum May 10.
Debate over bill intense
Pallister said the intense debate over the NDP’s Bill 18, particularly in Manitoba’s religious community, has shifted focus away from the well-being of children.
He said that’s due to the NDP’s poorly-worded Bill 18, a bill Pallister described as a "perceptual piece of legislation."
"It attempts to create an illusion that it is dealing with an issue that it is not," Pallister said.
Pallister said Bill 18 as is defines bullying too broadly in that even normal interactions between students and teachers could be construed as bullying.
"Feel for the coach or volunteer who puts demands on a young athlete," he said. "If everything can be bullying, the bill means nothing."
Pallister also said Bill 18 is silent on consequences for bullies.
Pallister steered away from questions about concerns that Bill 18 undermines religious freedom. A provision in the bill that requires both public and private schools to accommodate any student who asks to form a gay-straight alliance in the school.
"To create separate organizations within a school structure, whether that works or not, there’s lots of room to debate that," he said. "I’m not sure if a tall, geeky guy club would have helped me much in my school."