Crime and punishment (and school)

During a pandemic, school officials need to consider the stress that students face during these unprecedented times, experts say.

The pandemic is a tough time for kids, educators say.


Back in the 1950s, discipline in schools was strict and authoritarian. Corporal punishment was practised frequently. Schoolchildren were expected to be quiet and well-behaved. 


When things got out of line, boys got strapped and girls got slapped — on the knuckles with a ruler. 


When it comes to discipline in 2020, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, educators must use a different measuring stick. 


“It is vital that educators work with students to develop a set of guiding procedures,” says Heritage Academy’s director/principal Cheryl Ward.


Cheryl Ward.


Many children let the frustrations of daily life get to them. Sometimes a ‘timeout’ is all that is necessary to help the student refocus. 


“(A timeout) gives a student a few minutes to think and to calm (down),” says Jennifer Oake, an award-winning principal with the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB). “Often, a student just needs to talk it out — the best starting point is education, and talking with a student provides an opportunity for that.”  


Jennifer Oake.


Does discipline change under the pandemic? 


“Schools need to consider the additional stress and disruption that both students and their families have faced since COVID-19 began last March,” says Ward. “(Heritage Academy) continues to address each child as a unique individual with specific needs and understand that some may have faced more challenges in the past year than others.” 


Additional strategies are often in place to support the age, grade and situation of the student.  


Before suspending a student, a principal must consider the individual circumstances of that child and must specifically take into account the following:


  • Whether the student has the ability to control their behaviour;
  • and understand the possible consequences of that behaviour;
  • Does the student’s presence in the school creates an unacceptable risk to the safety of another person?;
  • The student’s history (i.e. recent trauma in the student’s life);
  • What progressive discipline has already been used.*


However, certain activities may result in an immediate suspension and possibly expulsion. 


For students in Grades 4 to 12, those activities include physical assault causing bodily injury requiring medical treatment, possessing a weapon, sexual assault, trafficking drugs and other criminal offences. The principal is mandated to suspend the student and investigate the incident further. The student could be subject to suspension or expulsion.


Otherwise, schools will continue to follow “a progressive discipline approach,” says Debbie Frendo, superintendent of the OCSB’s Student Success and Safe and Inclusive Schools program. This also includes acts involving bullying.


Debbie Frendo.


Schools must have a plan to prevent and intervene in bullying, adds Frendo. “Staff take bullying behaviour seriously and act in a timely, sensitive, and supportive manner.”  School staff will also speak to parents and involve them in the solution. Consequences for bullying will vary depending on the situation.   


The OCSB app (OCSBConnect) allows students to report bullying behaviour anonymously. This gives the Catholic school board an opportunity to zero in on bad behaviours before they get worse.


Parents and teachers alike realize this is an incredibly challenging time in the world’s history. 


“It is imperative that we work through this pandemic together,” Ward concludes, “without compromising the development of our children.”






School discipline under COVID-19


Cheryl Ward, director/principal of Heritage Academy, says schools need to understand “the additional stress and disruption to daily procedures that both students and their families have faced” since COVID-19 hit Ottawa last March.


“We continue to address each child as a unique individual with specific needs,” Ward continues, “and understand that some may have faced more challenges in the past year than others.”


Schools in the Ottawa area follow the Ontario Safe Schools Act. Under COVID-19, there has also been, albeit with some controversy, clear & actionable guidance for parents, children and teachers for a safe return. 


Heritage Academy’s primary goal is to educate the students about COVID-19. 


“We educate them on the reasons for the protocols, about the importance and logic for the restrictions,” adds Ward, “and coach them to help make the protocols easier to follow.” 


If a student’s actions go against our COVID-19 prevention protocol, and put the school community at risk, we would have the student stay home for a 14-day period to evaluate their ability to fully participate in the School’s COVID-19 prevention protocol. 


Virtual learning will then be utilized if this were to happen. 


At the end of the 14-day period, the individual’s family will be given the option of having them returning to school in person (participating fully in COVID-19 prevention protocol) or continuing with virtual learning.





*Source: Ontario Ministry of Education



“As a parent I feel conflicted. Sending my kids to school is necessary for (our) family’s mental health and kids need to be socialized. But I worry that the measures in place, in particular social distancing and the wide use of PPE, is scary and overwhelming for young kids… I can’t help but wonder what long-term effect this will have on their development.” 

  • Jennifer Lafave, mother of Mackenna, 5, and Ivy, 4

“We must be extra patient and understanding (during) this stressful time filled with anxiety and isolation. Children may not be able to play with their friends, visit family members, join others in celebrations or times of grief, and are faced with new norms. Be patient and commit yourself to get through each day with a smile.”

  • Cheryl Ward