“Everyone I know, even adults, not to mention students and children, had some level of anxiety about the situation,” the Barrie administrator said, referring to the pandemic.
Of the 5,189 Simcoe County District School Board students who self-identify as having a disability or condition, 45% report struggling with a mental health issue.
Further reports were provided to administrators of the Simcoe County District School Board last week at the Program Standing Committee meeting on their very first student census completed in April 2021. Nearly 27,000 students (51%) participated in the student census, which was conducted confidentially.
Students in grades K-6 had a parent/guardian participate in the census on their behalf, while students in grades 7-12 participated in the census themselves.
As part of the census, all participants were asked questions about conditions or disabilities.
“I am concerned about the number of students who identify with mental health issues because as we all know life does not get easier with age,” said Orillia Administrator Jodi Lloyd. / Ramara / Severn. “Stress is a normal thing that we have in our lives.”
“What are we doing or planning to move forward to help our students better cope with the challenges of school, life and work? ” she asked.
Associate Director of Education Dawn Stephens said the council has worked with social workers and child and youth workers on programs that support stress reduction and resilience.
“In terms of full board plans, we are still working with our school mental health and welfare services on what that will look like. We will also have professional development next year on this topic,” she said. “We have work to do on overall resilience.”
Stephens also said the topic of mental health is integrated into the current health curriculum. She also noted that students or parents/guardians who completed the census are self-diagnosing, so mental health issues as noted on the census do not necessarily mean a clinical diagnosis.
Twenty-three percent of respondents to the student census considered themselves (or their child) to be a person with a disability or condition.
Overall, of the 5,189 participants who reported a condition or disability, the most common disabilities or conditions identified included mental health (45%), learning (38%), development (18% ), speech (14%), visual or visual (10%), physical/mobility (9%), auditory (4%) or other (1%).
Broken down by panel, in the elementary panel of 3,290 students, the most commonly reported disorders or disabilities were learning (45%), mental health (33%) and development (24%).
In the secondary panel of 1,899 students, the most frequently reported problems were mental health (68%), learning (27%) and vision/visual (13%).
As some questions had multiple response options, totals may not add up to 100%.
According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, a disability can be a visible or non-visible condition. People can be born with a disability, it can be caused by an accident or it can develop as someone gets older.
A disability can include one or more of these conditions: physical, mental, learning, hearing, vision, epilepsy and others.
The census question on condition or disability included seven conditions or disabilities: developmental, hearing, learning, mental health, physical or mobility, sight or vision, and speech.
Barrie Administrator Beth Mouratidis pointed out that the 2021 census was taken to reflect the 2020 school year, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m surprised the (mental health) number isn’t higher,” she said. “Everything was closed one day and open the next. Nobody knew what was going on, honestly.
“Everyone I know, even adults, not to mention students and children, had some level of anxiety about the situation,” Mouratidis said.
Collingwood/Wasaga Beach trustee Tanya Snell agreed.
“If we had done this census two years before (the pandemic), would it be the same?” she asked.
Barrie Administrator David O’Brien asked about the nature of the census implementation and whether students who may have developmental or intellectual disabilities, such as autism, n may not have participated due to barriers which, in turn, would skew the data collected. .
“If you’re autistic and you’re not high performers…where filling out a census wasn’t something in their wheelhouse of abilities, are they captured or are they fading off the map?” O’Brien asked.
Stephens said staff could go back and take a look at the data collection process.
As defined in the Anti-Racism Act, public service bodies, which include Ontario school boards, are required and permitted to collect personal information related to programs, services and functions. This includes the collection of personal information related to Indigenous identity, race, religion, ethnic origin, gender identity and other demographic data.
According to the school board, throughout the 2021-2022 school year, other reports will be published periodically related to particular themes of the 2021 student census.
To read our article on the LGBTQ+ data collected during the 2021 student census, Click here.
To read our article on the language data collected during the 2021 student census, Click here.