An eye-opening video showing a March 3rd altercation in a Dartmouth Junior High between a Grade 9 student and his principal that has now been posted on YouTube has gone viral. Within 24 hours, the student-principal clash caught on the school’s surveillance system had been viewed 33,000 times and the number of hits has soared into the stratosphere.
The YouTube Video at Graham Creighton JHS provides an revealing look at the incident. Click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ae-6Ec_5G1g
The serious altercation has emerged as a raging issue within the Halifax Region District School Board and now throughout Atlantic Canada. It has all the makings of a full-blown crisis. The scene of the incident is Graham Creighton JHS in Cherry Brook ( a ‘rough and tumble’ neighborhood) and the principal in question is Ken Fells, a prominent member of the Nova Scotian black community. The student accused of videoing bullying activities is a 14-year old white student known to have clashed with the principal on a weekly basis in the past.
When the HRSB staff filed a confidential report on the incident and recommended to the elected Boar of Trustees that Fells be terminated, a raging controversy erupted, dividing the educational community. The Black Educators Association, led by Brad Barton, lined up behind Principal Fells and launched a very public campaign to have him spared. Local parents came forward supporting Fells and his ‘hard-line’ approach to disciple, claiming that he was “turning around” a school where student bullying was commonplace and teachers regularly given a rough ride. Little was heard from the victim or his parents until after the hearing, although the public was advised that the boy had transferred to another school.
The incident came to a head at an HRSB Board of Trustees Meeting on May 19, 2010, held amidst picketing by the Black Educators Association and supporters of Fells. After the marathon 8-hour hearing, Ken Fells was retained by the Board, but recommended for re-assignment to another school. Only then did the boys’ parents speak out and Atlantic Frank magazine go public with a story providing a blow-by-blow account of the serious altercation.
The Halifax Chronicle Herald came out in defense of Fells and hard-pressed educators. In a lead editorial, “Educators on Eggshells” (May 21), the paper asked ” Why is the deck stacked against school principals and in favour of unruly pupils? Will more educators now learn to walk on eggshells if they value their jobs?” A “School Row” feature story in Atlantic Frank (June 8, 2010) takes a decidedly different view of the incident.
The actions of the principal were likened by Herald columnist Laurent Lepierres to those of Jean Chretien’s infamous “Shawinigan Handshake.” After weighing the evidence, Lepierres backed the educators: “What’s wrong is treating the school system as a dumping ground for all our social problems while giving it little leeway to take action against kids who act out.”
The Ken Fells case does raise a series of fundamental questions: What’s causing the escalation of tension and periodic eruptions of aggression in today’s junior and senior high schools? Is the Fells case essentially a black and white issue? Can a “Shawinigan Handshake” and a “Half-Nelson” take-down be excused as an acceptable form of discipline? Should we define the limits of school authority in responding to student misbehaviour in our schools?