The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) says it will conduct a formal review of its bullying prevention practices once the police investigation into the death of Devan Bracci-Selvey is complete.
Board staff will also carry out their own “school-level” investigation into how it handled all of the students arrested following the fatal stabbing outside Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School on Monday.
A spokesperson says the HWDSB has already begun looking into the “behaviours” of three students who were taken into custody then released without charge, including a 16-year-old boy and girl who were released Tuesday.
But the board will wait to hear from police before beginning its investigation into the 14-year-old and 18-year-old charged with first-degree murder.
All five of those investigated are current or former students at Churchill.
Shari-Ann Selvey, Devan’s mother, was there when he was attacked. She said the school and board knew her son was being bullied since the beginning of the school year, but little was done to stop it.
“For a month, we’ve been trying to get this dealt with,” Selvey said through tears.
Both the school board and Hamilton police have confirmed they were notified of bullying incidents involving Devan before his death.
Police say their records show two reports of the teen being bullied, one in 2018 and the other in early September when his bike was reportedly stolen.
Det.-Sgt. Steve Bereziuk said police are aware of the bike theft, but explained there’s currently no information linking the accused in the stabbing to the stolen bike.
Investigators were initially hesitant to comment on whether bullying and the attack were directly connected, but during a media update Wednesday Bereziuk said the bullying aspect of the investigation is “growing” and police are going to continue to “probe” those concerns.
Formal review into safe school practices
HWDSB staff will be bringing a recommendation to the board of trustees to begin its formal review of safe school practices — which include bullying prevention and intervention — at its Oct. 28 board meeting, according to a joint statement from board chair Alex Johnstone and director of education Manny Figueiredo.
“We will work with students, parents and the community to ensure that all input is reflected in our efforts to collectively build positive and inclusive school and community cultures,” it reads.
Despite the school and the board having policies around bullying, Selvey said she feels there’s no accountability.
“Everyone failed my son,” she said. “Even I did. I tried to save him, and I couldn’t get to him in time.”
When asked whether he felt the HWDSB had failed Devan, Figueiredo said it’s premature for him to say for sure, but he doesn’t believe that’s the case.
“I don’t believe the school had failed him based on what what I know. Once we do our inquiry … then we’ll know … did the board fail? Or is there something else we’re going to learn through this police investigation that we just don’t know right now?”
Minister calls for ‘rigorous investigation’
On Thursday, following a pledge to invest nearly $40 million in mental health initiatives for students, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce was questioned about Devan’s death and whether school administrators should face consequences for what happened.
Lecce said answering that question would mean pronouncing judgment before the investigation is complete, something he wasn’t willing to do.
“What I will ask is for a rigorous investigation to understand where the gaps existed so there are lessons learned to ensure no child is left behind as a consequence of a system that is not improving the lives of young people,” he said. “That’s the obligation I have to his mother and to all parents in the province of Ontario.”
Still, the minister said there needs to be “accountability” when processes aren’t being followed.
“My expectation is when a principal of a school or vice principal of administrator is cognizant of a child feeling isolated or harmed or victimized by a peer or by an adult that there is action taken.”
The minister described bullying is an “omnipresent reality in Ontario,” adding what happened in Hamilton should show the local board and school administrators across the province that more needs to be done to combat abuse in the classroom.
“Over the coming days hopefully there are lessons learned that can ensure no child faces the same sense of isolation as this young man.”