By Kirk Winter

In a wide ranging interview with the local Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario President Karen Bratina, we drilled down on a shocking ETFO school violence survey compiled by the federation, and released in the fall of 2018.

The survey reported that 70 percent of ETFO members province-wide were victims of or had witnessed violence perpetrated against a staff member by an elementary-aged student.

Toronto elementary teachers in 2016/2017 filed 400 violent incident reports. These incidents included punches, kicks, scratches, bites, slaps, head-butts and spitting. Blocks, staplers, chairs, toys and water bottles were used as projectiles with the intent to injure. Teachers were stabbed with pencils, scissors and pens. Teachers also faced yelling, swearing and threats on their lives from their students.

We discussed whether this was an urban problem only, and I was surprised and saddened to hear that Trillium Lakelands elementary teachers are facing many of the same issues on a daily basis. Teachers reported that incidents of student aggression have increased over the last few years. Bratina says that evacuations of classrooms “occur daily or weekly in some area schools and that negatively impacts learning.” I was stunned to hear her say that “locally the most frequent calls (regarding violent incidents) come from primary teachers where our youngest and most vulnerable students are exposed to violence (against staff) frequently.”

Bratina said that locally, 271 elementary teachers took part in the ETFO violence survey, 80 percent were classroom teachers and 50 percent had taught between 11 and 20 years.

Trillium Lakelands elementary teachers reported the following in dealing with their students who range between 4 and 14 years of age:

  • 86 percent said that during their careers violent incidents had increased

  • 90 percent reported that violent incidents negatively impacted teaching and interfered with classroom management

  • 85 percent of teachers said violence is a growing problem at their school

  • 40 percent of teachers say they have have been assaulted

  • 58 percent of teachers say they have been threatened with assault

  • 70 percent of teachers say they have experienced mental stress as a result of school violence

  • 70 percent have taken sick leave on account of school violence

  • 50 percent of teachers reported that they have had to evacuate their classrooms due to a violent incident.

Bratina argued that these incidents are the direct by-product of a system “already seriously underfunded and lacking in front line support.”

Bratina defined frontline support as “more educational assistants, child and youth workers, school support councillors, school board psychologists, and other caring professionals.”

The ETFO has called for the Special Education funding model to be reviewed because Bratina says, “the current formula is a statistical model that has no relationship to the actual needs of students.”

She concluded by saying that “this is a serious issue and the government has to step up.”

EducationDeb Crossen