10/29/2012 04:33 EDT | Updated 12/29/2012 05:12 EST

Nova Scotia school staff to report bullying, but no penalties if they don't

HALIFAX - Legislation that would see all school staff in Nova Scotia report instances of bullying lacks concrete steps to ensure that the behaviour of bullies is changed, the province's opposition parties said Monday.

Education Minister Ramona Jennex introduced amendments to the Education Act that she said would better help her department track instances of bullying.

Jennex said while teachers are already reporting incidents of bullying, other staff such as custodians and bus drivers would be asked to do the same.

"Schools are not just the responsibility of the teachers and the principals, schools are the responsibility of everyone who works with students," she said.

Jennex said the amendments would also update terminology to include bullying and cyberbullying as "severely disruptive" behaviour.

The changes would see principals obligated to respond to all instances of severely disruptive behaviour and inform the parents of both victims and perpetrators. But the legislation contains no penalties if staff don't report bullying.

Liberal education critic Karen Casey said much of the reporting is already being done and the changes would do little to change what is occurring in schoolyards.

"I believe that teachers are reporting, principals are responding and they are trying to work with parents, but there are limitations," said Casey.

"The legislation should have addressed the limitations."

Casey said more supports are needed for school staff including giving them the ability to report inappropriate usage of devices such as cellphones to cellphone companies.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie also said little would change without defining bullying and cyberbullying in law.

"Spell out the consequences to the bullies," said Baillie. "That would be the quickest way to start to change behaviour and yet the government is refusing to do even that step."

But Jennex said sufficient penalties are already in place.

"At the criminal level, there are consequences already in place for harassment and harm," Jennex said.

"I feel at this point that they are sufficient and police forces can charge people for their behaviour."

Jennex said she expects training and protocols on the new reporting rules would be in place for school staff by the end of November.