McLean doubles down that education policies are sufficient
Sexual assault is a difficult topic, especially as evidenced in the legislature March 22 and the scrum afterward. Tough questions were posed about the lack of a policy within the department of Education for student-on-student harm by Kate White, the leader of the Yukon NDP.
The NDP leader asked Education Minister Jeanie McLean how it could be possible that a young woman could have reported a sexual assault to the RCMP and the administration and still be forced to spend the next few years sharing the same space in school as her abuser?
White had poured through the department’s policies to see what actually applied and found that no policies are in place to protect victims of sexual assault from peer abusers in a school setting. So White directly asked the minister to clarify what policies protect students who have been harmed by other students.
In response, McLean said there are clear standards and policies that students should not hurt other students.
“There is an absolutely clear expectation that all members of the school community must not engage in bullying, abuse or other unacceptable behaviours, as outlined in the safe and caring schools policy,” she replied.
“That includes working with the RCMP and other agencies, as well as providing support to families involved.”
White countered the minister listing the policies that exist.
“But none of these addresses the situation of a student assaulting another student,” she said.
White reiterated her offer from a Feb. 7 letter to McLean that opened the door for the minister to work with other women’s organizations and agencies to develop a policy that would clearly lay out what should happen when a student is harmed by another student on school property, as was the case in the young woman’s situation.
In the legislature, McLean fell back to the same response she gave to White’s question in her March 3 letter.
“The safety and wellbeing of students and staff is our first priority,” McLean said.
“There are policies in place.”
White asked why didn’t the policies help in the young woman’s situation? The family reported that both the RCMP and the sexual assault response team had been involved.
McLean declined to speak about the specific case. White noted multiple times that she had permission.
“I can speak about this being a very high priority for me personally and as the minister responsible for the Women and Gender Equity Directorate and Education,” she said.
White kept up her questioning. “Why don’t students deserve to be protected in school in the case of sexualized violence from their peers?”
McLean responded about the 23 action items in the safer schools action plan, which is to be completed later in the spring, saying that a tremendous amount of work had been done.
“We are also looking forward to a lot of other actions that may, of course, look at the specific policies,” she said.
In the scrum afterwards, White chastised her legislative colleagues.
“There was at least three of us in that assembly who got that initial email. One is for sure the leader of the Yukon party and I’ll have to look out to see what Liberals got that letter, and I was the only person to respond.”
The News confirmed that McLean was a recipient of the young woman’s letter of Jan. 23, and a spokesperson for the cabinet offices noted that McLean responded to the young woman.
Speaking to reporters in the cabinet office, McLean said: “My heart goes out absolutely to anyone that’s experienced sexualized violence […] These are experiences that I’ve had in my lifetime so I know firsthand what it’s like to be in a situation like this. Am I committed to ensuring that students are cared for and protected in our school system? Yes, and in society in general.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story (March 25) stated Minister McLean had not contacted the family. This has been corrected to reflect that the minister responded to the young woman, according to the cabinet communications director. The News regrets the error.
Lawrie Crawford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Yukon News