Reactions to Kutcher’s recommendations mixed
While the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board seems pleased with recommendations made by Dr. Stan Kutcher on Wednesday regarding youth mental health and education, some parents think they don’t go far enough.
The Halifax-based expert in adolescent mental health was brought to Cape Breton by the provincial departments of education and health and wellness in June to assess the situation after three middle school students died by suicide.
This was instigated by the CBRVSB, which made a written request to the province to help with the situation.
“We were very impressed by him and very impressed by his recommendations,” said Beth MacIsaac, superintendent of the CBRVSB.
“They were to the point and addressed some of the concerns we had. The recommendations lead to a greater collaboration between health and education and also involve the community, parents and students. So they are very valuable,” she continued.
However, Amanda MacDonald, a concerned mother who started an anti-bullying petition
that led to a sit-down meeting with Kutcher, said she thinks the recommendations are good but they don’t go far enough.
“They’re giving the school board money to get two more guidance counsellors and one more social worker. There are roughly 56 schools in the CBRVSB so that doesn’t make sense,” she said.
Chris Royal, father of 13-yearold Madison Wilson, who took her life in June, agrees with MacDonald and thinks each school needs its own guidance counsellor. He also pointed out that the CBRVSB was slated to lose two guidance counsellors this school year so the money to hire two more isn’t going to increase the overall number.
However, his main concern is the fact the province is currently only implementing three of the seven recommendations, not all of them.
“I believe all of them have to be implemented immediately and it’s just a star in my eyes and many others at this point,” he said via written statement.
“It’s a very big start but we all know it’s not enough … we need it now. Not five, eight, 10 months from now.”
MacDonald is also concerned the recommendations don’t address the mental health issues Kutcher himself pointed out.
“The recommendations are not even addressing the mental health issue that Dr. Kutcher talks so much about … those being the mental health problems with the lack of accessibility to services and long wait times.”
The mother of one schoolaged child is pleased to see the recommendation that changes be made to the provincial School Code of Conduct Policy in regards to what type of interventions can be used with relation to student conflict, bullying and cyberbullying.
“The conduct policy change I agree with and is something I mentioned to Kutcher. But overall, this isn’t enough. It’s a Band-Aid for a much larger problem,” she said.
MacIsaac explained what this proposed policy change means to the school boards.
“My understanding is that there are a lot of interventions that are out there, but what is really important is that with the interventions that you are actually implementing, there is evidence out there that shows they are going to work in these situations,” she said.
Kutcher also recommends having a “single structure for addressing all school mental health-related policies, plans, oversight and evaluation” which is something MacIsaac says the school board has already started working on.
“We’ve already moved toward that. We’ve established a committee, with representation from health, with representation from the school board, so it’s a very close alignment of the mental health services with the education system,” she explained.
“There also have been continuous meetings with health (since Kutcher’s visit) to decide on how we will actually begin implementation in the fall of initiatives we will be bringing in.”
At this point, MacIsaac is unable to give details regarding these initiatives.
Currently, the province is moving forward in implementing three of the seven recommendations.
MacIsaac said as far as the school board is concerned, they are committed to doing everything they can to improve the situation for students in the CBRVSB and they look forward to working closely with community members and organizations.
“There were very tragic circumstances during last year’s school year and no one can change those circumstances. But we have a commitment to move forward for the betterment of the students in our system,” she stressed.
Overall, Royal hopes Kutcher’s recommendations are embraced and succeed in solving the problems in Cape Breton.
“We need this for our younger generation to come to show them that we care,” he said.