‘My big­gest con­cern is the lack of re­sources’

Data re­veals level of vi­o­lence, threats in Nova Sco­tia class­rooms

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - BY MICHAEL TUT­TON

Stu­dents com­mit, in­cite or threaten some form of phys­i­cal vi­o­lence an av­er­age of about 1,100 times a month at Nova Sco­tia’s schools, prompt­ing teach­ers to call for more sup­port staff and a clearer dis­ci­pline process.

The data, ob­tained through free­dom of in­for­ma­tion leg­is­la­tion, in­cludes re­ported in­ci­dents at 400 schools, us­ing the prov­ince’s def­i­ni­tion of vi­o­lence as “us­ing force, ges­tur­ing, or in­cit­ing oth­ers to use force to in­jure a mem­ber of the school com­mu­nity.’’

In the 2015-16 school year, there were a to­tal of 11,740 cases, and in the first seven months of the cur­rent year there were 7,515 cases, ac­cord­ing to the data pro­vided.

The Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment de­clined to pro­vide an of­fi­cial to do an in­ter­view, but sent emailed com­ments in­di­cat­ing many of the in­ci­dents don’t re­sult in harm and a large per­cent­age are young chil­dren who are kick­ing, throw­ing rocks or push­ing in ele­men­tary schools.

How­ever, some teach­ers say the fig­ures are con­cern­ing be­cause they in­clude cases of teach­ers fac­ing at­tacks by trou­bled young peo­ple who can’t eas­ily be re­moved from class­rooms they’re dis­rupt­ing.

Peter Day, a math re­source teacher in Cape Bre­ton, says in­ci­dents rang­ing from mi­nor out­bursts to punch­ing, spit­ting on and bit­ing ed­u­ca­tors have be­come dis­turbingly rou­tine.

“A few weeks ago I was at a school and there was a staff mem­ber bit­ten and that was a nor­mal thing — to the point where I was say­ing, ‘You need to go to the hospi­tal for that, that’s an occupational health and safety is­sue,’’’ he said in a tele­phone in­ter­view.

“My big­gest con­cern is the lack of re­sources that are avail­able to help with these is­sues,’’ he added, say­ing more teach­ers’ aides, guid­ance coun­sel­lors and be­havioural ther­a­pists are needed.

Li­ette Doucet, the pres­i­dent of the Nova Sco­tia Teach­ers Union, said the prov­ince’s schools are in­creas­ingly vi­o­lent.

“We get calls from teach­ers all the time who have been in­tim­i­dated by stu­dents ... they’ve been kicked, they’ve been spit on, they’ve been punched and even had chairs thrown at them. It goes on and on and on,’’ she said.

“The calls we get are in­creas­ing, not de­creas­ing.’’

Doucet says teach­ers be­lieve a clearer dis­ci­pline process is needed, which al­lows for swifter ac­tion with on­go­ing prob­lems.

Paul Ben­nett, a con­sul­tant on ed­u­ca­tion in Hal­i­fax, said the prov­ince’s wide def­i­ni­tion of phys­i­cal vi­o­lence is out of step with other prov­inces.

“Ob­vi­ously we could learn from On­tario, which re­quired all school boards to pub­licly dis­close the acts of school vi­o­lence. It’s quite clear their def­i­ni­tion was what most peo­ple would con­sider to be vi­o­lence,’’ he said.

Since 2011, On­tario’s def­i­ni­tion of phys­i­cal vi­o­lence has mainly con­sisted of as­saults caus­ing harm that re­quired med­i­cal at­ten­tion, as well as sex­ual as­sault, weapons pos­ses­sion and extortion.

The Toronto school board pub­lishes a de­tailed an­nual re­port pro­vid­ing sus­pen­sion rates and com­par­ing rates from year to year. It also looks at the lev­els of vi­o­lence tied to chil­dren with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties, be­havioural is­sues, autism and in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties.

“If it’s go­ing to be re­search­based, you need to col­lect the data nec­es­sary to make those pol­icy de­ci­sions,’’ Ben­nett said in an in­ter­view.

Bill Byrd, direc­tor of the Toronto-based Safe Schools Net­work, said clear def­i­ni­tions with de­tails on what hap­pened are needed in Nova Sco­tia.

“The more you re­fine it the bet­ter. If they (the Nova Sco­tia gov­ern­ment) does that it will help to ... see what is the real prob­lem and what are you go­ing to do about it,’’ he said.

The prov­ince said in an email the in­ci­dents de­crease as stu­dents grow older and learn to bet­ter con­trol their be­hav­iour.

“A large per­cent­age of re­ported be­hav­iours are ones of­ten seen in young chil­dren ... who are learn­ing self-con­trol and ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponses to new rou­tines and ex­pec­ta­tions,’’ wrote spokes­woman Heather Fair­bairn.

“Ex­am­ples in­clude kick­ing, throw­ing rocks or push­ing. We see that in­ci­dents de­cline sig­nif­i­cantly as stu­dents ad­vance through ele­men­tary school to the higher grades as they de­velop those es­sen­tial self-reg­u­la­tion skills.’’

The de­part­ment says it has given fund­ing to school boards to di­rectly sup­port the de­vel­op­ment of so­cial and emo­tional learn­ing pro­grams in schools.

Fair­bairn says more than 140 schools are us­ing ap­proaches “that fo­cus on con­flict res­o­lu­tion, re­la­tion­ship-build­ing and de­ci­sion-mak­ing to help stu­dents take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their ac­tions as mem­bers of a school com­mu­nity.’’

The Aca­dian school board, the only board to pro­vide de­tails of the re­sults of the vi­o­lence, seemed to con­firm that most in­ci­dents are less se­ri­ous in na­ture, with over half of the 576 cases of phys­i­cal vi­o­lence last year re­sult­ing in no for­mal mea­sures be­ing taken — though there were also 30 sus­pen­sions among the to­tal.

Ben­nett

Doucet

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