It’s alleged that a male student from Stephenville High School has sexually assaulted multiple female students. (CBC) A prominent St. John’s lawyer says the province’s English School District had more room than its letting on to take decisive action to prevent a student accused of sexual assault from going back to the same school as his accusers.
Tensions have been running high at Stephenville High School for the past few weeks, after the student was permitted to return to the school to write exams.
The student has since chosen not to return to class — at least for now — but the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District maintains it needs a court order to prevent him from returning should he choose.
"Our ability to respond is really dictated by what the law tells us we’re allowed to do," said board of trustees chair Goronwy Price, citing the Schools Act. Lynn Moore, a lawyer who specializes in sexual assault cases, says the NLESD could have done more to support students in this case. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC) But Lynn Moore, a lawyer specializing in sexual assault cases, says there are parts of the Schools Act that the NLESD could have interpreted more liberally.
"The English School District’s own bylaws say the student can be suspended if the board supports the suspension of students as required in response to inappropriate, disruptive, or dangerous student behaviour," she said in an interview with CBC Radio’s On the Go.
Moore maintains the male student’s alleged actions clearly would fall under that category.
"What they have decided is that this student’s behaviour is not dangerous enough and that these girls are not worth protecting," she said. School district reviewing act
In a letter sent to students and parents, the NLESD said that after reviewing the Schools Act, it was determined that the district would be be unable to bar the student from returning to school.
Despite this, Donna Miller Fry, the assistant director of NLESD programs in western N.L., said the board would do everything it can to ensure the safety and well-being of its students.
"Safety is the paramount concern for the district and the safety plans may include alternate education plans and physical separation of students," she wrote.
"Movement of students within the school may be restricted and, where necessary, supervision may be imposed during the school day." Stephenville High School students wore pins and buttons, and staged a silent protest in their classes on Wednesday. (Colleen Connors/CBC) The NLESD added that it has been in contact with the RCMP, the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, the Public Legal Information Association of N.L., and the N.L. Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre, to discuss how they can collaboratively develop a sexual violence policy for schools.
The discussion with these groups has been centred on addressing deficiencies in its process when incidents like this occur.
But Moore believes that things can be done to change the situation in Stephenville right now.
She said the NLESD does have the power to make a decision to stop the accused from returning to Stephenville High.
"What the school board is doing is protecting his right to be in school to the detriment to these survivors because there is an unwillingness to accept that this kind of thing happens, and we know that it happens," said Moore.
The NLESD has confirmed that the male student faces charges involving one female student and possibly others, but details of the charges along with his identity are protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.With files from On The Go
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