Q&A Column #3: Clearing the Air about Cannabis: The Role of School Boards | Ophea.net

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Q&A Column #3: Clearing the Air about Cannabis: The Role of School Boards

Tuesday, April 2, 2019 - 10:52
Cannabis 101

As members of school communities, we all have important roles to play in educating young Canadians about cannabis use.  The legalization of cannabis in Canada has brought up plenty of questions for educators, especially related to the impact of legalization on schools, students, and communities; and what information and supports are available through school boards and community partners.

In the third installment of our “Clearing the Air about Cannabis” series, we spoke with Superintendents and Senior Administration from the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB) and the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) about what they’re doing to guide administrators and educators and to involve community partners and parents/guardians in addressing cannabis use.

Read on to discover how we can all play our part by communicating consistent messages and following consistent policies.

How has the legalization of non-medical cannabis affected school board policies?

At the board level, the legalization of cannabis has meant reviewing and revising policies and procedures to make sure they address cannabis use where appropriate. “We had to review and revise the Safe, Inclusive and Accepting Schools [policy]; the Bullying Prevention and Intervention [policy], the Progressive Discipline [policy] and the Smoke Free Learning policy,” says a representative for SCDSB.

Administrative Procedures Memorandums were also issued by the board. These covered topics such as searching students, student discipline, and accommodating medical cannabis in the workplace.

How can school boards help members of the school community stay informed of key messages regarding cannabis?

School boards can help administrators and educators keep up-to-date on revised policies and procedures by sharing them via email, staff meetings and through their school and board websites. In the YRDSB, efforts focused on sharing information about the implications of legalization with senior staff, trustees, principals and vice-principals.  They were then encouraged to share these messages with staff, students, parents/guardians, and members of the school community.

“These messages were shared in an October email, which included a ‘Legalization of Cannabis: What We Know and What You Can Do’ synopsis for staff, newsletter inserts for parents/guardians and members of the school community, and PA announcements that could be read for students in secondary schools or delivered in classrooms in elementary schools,” says one YRDSB representative.

By familiarizing themselves with these documents, school staff gain a shared understanding of their board’s approach to cannabis to communicate accurate and consistent messages about cannabis use to students.  

And when it comes to teaching, educators can begin by referencing the Substance Use, Addictions and Related Behaviours expectations in the H&PE curriculum to guide their planning and teaching.

What community partners can schools and school boards turn to for additional support?

There are a range of local health promotion agencies that schools can reach out to for expert support and up-to-date resources.  “We have a partnership with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit” says an SCDSB representative “and they have worked with our schools on educating administrators, staff, and students.”

In the YRDSB, York Region Public Health, Addictions Services for York Region and the York Regional Police are all members of a Substance Misuse Working Group.  

Involving community partners in working groups is another great way to gain support.  You can find your local public health unit by visiting the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care website

How can parents/guardians be involved in the conversations around cannabis?

Students succeed best when the messaging is clear and consistent. Parents/guardians can check school board websites for policies and procedures related to cannabis use and can look for an updated code of conduct online or in student handbooks. By knowing the rules around cannabis use and getting informed about potential harms, they can communicate key messages to their children and be prepared to answer questions.

Parents and guardians can also take advantage of educational campaigns that nearby schools are offering. For example, the YRDSB recently presented a Substance Misuse Webinar Series for families and staff to learn about substances (including cannabis).

By working together, school boards, administrators, educators, community and provincial partners, and parents/guardians can communicate consistent messages and up-to-date information to help students make informed decisions about their health, safety, and well‑being. 

Visit Ophea’s Clearing the Air About Cannabis Q&A Form to submit your questions for next month’s Q&A column. For access to a database of resources visit Cannabis Education Resources and follow #WeedEducationWednesday where a different cannabis resource is featured each week. You can also sign up for Ophea’s e-newsletter eConnection to read the next month’s Q&A column and to stay up-to-date with the latest issues, events, and resources!

Thank you! 
Ophea and the Provincial System Support Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health