Advocates hopeful more will be done to address absenteeism in wake of Tina Fontaine report

A report into the life and death of Tine Fontaine released on Tuesday in Sagkeeng First Nation, Man., highlighted the issue of absenteeism and advocates are hopeful it will help bring about change.

One of five recommendations made in the report by the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth, Daphne Penrose, calls on Manitoba Education to make sure a recently announced review of education includes a response to absenteeism across the province and a review of the use of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.

The report found Fontaine’s attendance in school decreased significantly in the 2011-2012 school year following her father’s death.

Penrose said not enough was done to address her chronic and severe absenteeism.

“In the case of Tina, the educational system had an opportunity to identify her struggles early and coordinate resources to ensure her well-being and potential,” the report states. “While there was clear evidence that Tina encountered wonderful educators in her life, overall, the educational system missed opportunities to provide supports and engage in a meaningful way.”

Inner City Youth Alive executive director Kent Dueck, who raised the issue of absenteeism in 2017, is part of a provincial task force looking at ways to curb absenteeism rates. He said more needs to be done to address the issue.

“To date I feel as though the actions and measures taken haven’t been anything of substance,” said Dueck. “We’ve been spending the last three years basically discussing the problem, studying the problem.

“We’re not putting enough energy into this, we’re not committed enough and there will be more stories like this.”

Dueck’s hopeful something changes soon in the wake of the report into Fontaine’s life and death.

“I think Tina’s story kind of really puts a pointy tip to this whole thing and it’s a huge cautionary tale.”

Manitoba Education will review the advocate’s report.

Premier Brian Pallister said Tuesday the recommendation could be looked at by the provincial commission tasked with reviewing Kindergarten to Grade 12 education.

“We’ve set up an arms-length commission so I can’t tell them what to do but most certainly we will encourage them to look at these recommendations very seriously as part of the work they’re going to be undertaking to improve our education system,” said Pallister.