Toronto school board could cut down gender-based violence in high school. Here’s how it could do that.

A parents’ group in Toronto has long criticized the school district for over-scheduling high school students, many of whom live in poverty. The latest chapter, published by the Toronto Star over the weekend, raised the question of whether girls should be screened more frequently for gender-based violence.

“Having women and girls high-quality, high-performing at school is one of the best investments we can make for society, and I find it appalling that the board is taking this view,” Reena Ramchandani, an organizer of the group, Parents for Better Schooling, told the Star.

She’s right. As Slate’s Katy Waldman points out, research shows that gender-based violence does not increase with gender roles: In fact, studies show that boys who are more able to feel secure in their masculinity are less likely to act on impulses they might otherwise snap. More specifically, studies show that girls in high school who feel more “empowered” tend to avoid the more hurtful forms of bullying and as a result, those girls are less likely to abuse themselves.

The Toronto Board of Education has an opportunity to change this with a new policy that could do wonders for the confidence of girls and their futures. The policy, which the school board is in the process of developing, will specify how often girls should be screened for gender-based violence. For example, it could recommend weekly screening for girls who have experienced serious forms of sexual violence and for those who fear a high likelihood of future violence. Research shows that ongoing screening can reduce new instances of sexual violence by up to 66 percent, according to the Office of the Ontario Minister of Education. And, research shows that when girls feel that they are taking the initiative to address their own cases of gender-based violence, they may even choose to report their concerns to other students or adults.

“There’s a very high need to raise awareness of the need to do just this: to prevent these kids from becoming victims of this; to intervene as a way to make sure this never happens,” Andrea Greer, a research associate at the Center for Research & Education on Violence at LaSalle University, told the Star. “To my mind, the best way to do this is not by screening them but rather by informing them.”

It’s hard to disagree. Every child needs an opportunity to discover who they are — and, for that matter, an opportunity to learn who they want to be. A school board that truly places this core value above student schedules and leaves no one behind may come to realize that the loss of a tiny piece of a huge puzzle is far less significant than the loss of a life.

–Ashley Fetters is a writer in New York

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