Following the release of the independent report into the government’s handling of sexual abuse by an education assistant at Hidden Valley Elementary School, the government has pledged 23 action items.
Former education assistant William Auclair-Bellemare was convicted for sexually interfering with a student while working at the school in January 2021.
Critically, neither the RCMP nor the Department of Education worked to identify additional victims or notify parents until after the incident was made public due to media coverage of a lawsuit by the initial victim’s parents against Auclair-Bellemare in the summer of 2021.
Auclair-Bellemare was charged with further offences involving two additional victims after the investigation was reopened amid outcry from the school community. Those alleged offences are still before the court.
The 23 steps the government has now promised are a response to an independent review created by Vancouver-based lawyer Amanda Rogers and released earlier this month.
The planned actions include enhancing training, better sharing of information, new procedures and improvements to engagement with school parents and the community at large.
The list of actions says all school staff and administrators will be required to train in the prevention and reporting of abuse including sexualized abuse when they are hired. It says annual retraining will also be required.
It says the government will work to develop a victim support plan with clearly identified roles and responsibilities set out. Finding ways to make better use of school, student and human resources databases was also identified as a priority. The goal of this is to be able to provide up-to-date information on past and current students and their families as well as to keep track of when and where teachers, educational assistants and teachers on-call were assigned.
The government also pledged a review of the incident reporting and tracking systems used in the school system.
In terms of new or improved procedures, the government promised to create better guidelines for inter-departmental communication and coordination in response to serious incidents in schools. It says this is to clarify procedures for briefing elected officials, the role of government communications staff and timelines for action.
New guidance for staff regarding post-incident communication and procedures for information sharing with the RCMP on matters involving the investigation of alleged criminal conduct by an employee are also in the works. The new post-incident guidance is set to include timelines for reporting, information to provide to parents and supports available for victims and families.
One of the actions planned is the creation of a new inter-agency agreement for the investigation of child abuse between the RCMP and the territory’s departments of Health and Social Services and Education.
Following input received from families of students at Hidden Valley Elementary, a parent advisory committee for the school will also be created.
The work to be done is marked with the government department responsible and tagged with a timeline for completion. Some are expected to be in effect in less than a month while others are expected to take as long as 18 months.
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