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Archive for the ‘School Security’ Category

Establishing and maintaining a positive climate for learning poses challenges in many of today’s schools. Six years ago British Education Secretary Ed Balls reacted to an April 2009 report by Sir Alan Steer by announcing a “crackdown” on student discipline in U.K. schools. “Children can’t learn if classes are disrupted by bad behaviour,” said Ed Balls. ”That’s why parents tell me they want tough and fair discipline in every school.”

“More schools will also be encouraged to use traditional methods such as detentions, suspensions, isolation rooms and lunchtime curfews to punish badly behaved pupils,” London’s Daily Telegraph reported. ”They will be told to order pupils to remove caps and confiscate mobile phones. Guidance also calls on schools to punish rowdy behavior, bullying and fighting outside the school gates, including incidents on public transport, to stop poor behavior spilling onto the streets.”

FollowingtheRules

Britain’s crackdown on student discipline marked a significant shift and a break with the prevailing philosophy in most North American school districts. A preventive student management system, Positive Behaviour Intervention Supports (PBIS), developed by George Sugai and Robert Horner at the University of Oregon, held sway throughout the early 2000s. “Punishment, in and of itself,” according to PBIS research, ” generally does not have a long-term benefit for students and creates a false sense of security. Practices that focus on positive and proactive approaches are more consistent with with learning acceptable behaviour in schools.”

The Positive Behaviour Supports model was taught in education schools and integrated into teacher Professional Development programs. Whole school systems, such as the Halifax Regional School Board, adopted the approach, renamed PEBS, and trained a whole cohort of teachers to focus more on providing “carrots” for good behaviour in an attempt to promote “pro-active school-wide prevention and early intervention.” Under the Nova Scotia School Conduct Code, adopted in 2001 and renewed in 2006, developing student discipline practices was left up to teachers and principals. “The climate of each learning community,” the PBIS manual read, “therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach is less effective than interventions based upon the needs of each school.”

Public reports of student violence did heighten demands for improved school security. While Ontario had passed a Safe Schools Act in 2000, that clampdown was primarily aimed at bolstering school security by introducing security guards, electronic surveillance, visitor ID tags, and ‘zero tolerance’ for violence rules. Curbing violent acts did lead to the identification of a list of offenses that could trigger expulsion, suspension, and other disciplinary sanctions. Most of the safe school measures were explicitly aimed at reducing the incidence of violence in urban, inner-city schools and large regional high schools.

Growing teacher and parent concerns about flagrant student misbehaviour called into question the school-based disciplinary model and spelled trouble for the PBIS student behaviour modification system. Thirty per cent of respondents in a 2014 Nova Scotia Education Review survey reported feeling unsafe or uncomfortable in and around the province’s 400 public schools. Bullying remained “a persistent issue,” teachers cried out for help in managing “disruptive classroom behaviours,” the disciplinary consequences were not only “unclear” but varied greatly from one school to another.

The Education Review raised the issue of violence in the schools, but the leak of provincial statistics in February 2015 suggested it was more widespread than reported.  In 2013-14, principals and school staff reported 4,730 acts of physical violence in a provincial system with less than 120,000 students from P to 12. The President of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, Shelley Morse, expressed grave concern and provided a graphic illustration of her life as an elementary vice-principal. ” I’ve been kicked, punched, bitten. Had chairs and desks and rocks thrown at me. I’ve had students spit on me. Have been verbally abusive to me…and (students) destroyed my office….”

Like the United Kingdom and a host of American states, Nova Scotia responded by issuing a much stricter province-wide, top-down School Code of Conduct policy.  Announced on August 24, 2015, and implemented this September, all school boards and school principals will be expected to implement the policy designed to maintain “a positive and inclusive school climate.”  It sounded, at first glance, like a warmed over version of the old policy and it dropped previous references to maintaining “an orderly and safe learning environment.”

The Nova School School Conduct Code itself ran in a completely different direction, identifying a multitiude of student conduct offenses and spelling out the specific consequences. It was intended as a province-wide crackdown but there were some accommodations made to promote respect for diversity, including gender identity. Students arriving for the first day of school this year were presented with the new 9-page School Code of Conduct and it was part of the normal welcome back routine.  Hundreds of teachers trained to implement PEBS were left scrambling to master the new set of school conduct rules imposed, without much parent input, on each and every school.

Do top-down prescriptive Student and School Discipline Codes actually work?  What do students learn when they are confronted with a gowing list of “don’t dos” ? Is it possible to implement Positive Behaviour Supports under a regime that embraces deterrent measures that tend to obscure the previously emphasized positive values and behavioural expectations?  Is the policy aimed at teaching parents to raise more responsible, respectful kids as much as it’s intended to apply to students? 

 

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Safe School initiatives and “No Tolerance” policies have been around since the mid-1990s, but school boards and provincial education authorities across Canada are now collecting and beginning to publicly report on acts of school violence.  It’s also headline news because of startling figures, inaccurate reports, and hair-raising tales of violence against teachers.

SchoolViolencePhotoNova Scotia Teacher’s Union president Shelley Morse topped them all in February 16, 2015 in a CBCNews Nova Scotia report. “I’ve been kicked, punched, bitten. Had chairs and desks and rocks thrown at me, ” she said. “I’ve had students spit on me. Have been verbally abusive to me. They have destroyed my office, because I’m a vice principal as well.” Teachers, Morse claimed, call the NSTU in fear of their students it gets so bad at times.

Cracking down on school violence is not new. It goes back to 1994, when American President Bill Clinton passed the Gun Free Schools Act banning guns from public schools and cracking down on school violence. After the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, the majority of U.S. schools adopted “No Tolerance” policies for violence, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, firearms, and weapons other than guns.  Since then, Canada’s provincial school systems have adopted their own versions of such policies aimed at combating bullying, managing youth violence, and controlling unwanted aggression.

Twelve years ago, when British Columbia Premier Christy Clark was Education Minister, a government task force called for province-wide policies for dealing with bullying, harassment and intimidation in schools, including annual reports from school boards on how they handled violent incidents. Since then, safe school policies in many urban schools in Ontario have featured security guards, electronic surveillance, student identification tags, discipline, and zero tolerance.

Implementing simple “No Tolerance” policies ran into unexpected difficulties. In 2000, the Ontario Ministry of Education passed the Safe Schools Act, which set out a list of offences that could trigger expulsion, suspension, and other disciplinary responses. Interestingly, it did not define safety. In a parallel move, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) adopted The Equity Foundation Statement in 1999 – a comprehensive commitment to equity and a rally against racism, homophobia, sexism, and oppression based on class. Those two initiatives have, in effect, exposed differences in students’ and teachers’ perceptions of safety and equity, and how they experience bulling and harassment on a day-to-day basis.

Public disclosure of violence and bullying is now far more common. In 2011, Ontario’s Ministry of Education responded  to public concerns by amending the Education Act and requiring the 73 school boards to report the numbers for incidents like weapon possession, serious assaults and sexual assaults in its schools With the passage of the Nova Scotia 2012 Respectful Schools Act, reporting acts of violence became mandatory in public schools.

The official figures for acts of violence in school can be alarming. Last year teachers, principals and school staff in Nova Scotia recorded 4,730 acts of physical violence in a provincial system with only 400 schools, 122,000 students and 9,300 teachers.  So shocking, in fact, that Minister of Education Karen Casey attempted to downplay the figures. “I think it’s misleading to suggest that 4,700 of those are truly violent acts,” she told CBC News. She thinks there’s a distinction to be made between students with emotional or mental difficulties acting out and students who are intentionally violent or aggressive.

Winnipeg public schools have their share of violence and bullying, directed against students and teachers. Over the past two years, CBC News revealed that 931 physical assaults took place, 797 attacks against students and 137 on staff. Affter learning that 15 per cent of the assualts were on teachers, Winnipeg School Division trustee Mike Babinsky replied, “Wow. That’s high.” The Manitoba Teachers Society claims that the numbers are even higher. “You are discouraged from reporting,” says MTS president Paul Olson, “for fear it’ll blight the reputation of the child or the student.”

The posted data from the Ontario school boards has generated much controversy. In 2011-2012, 2,659 violent incidents were reported from almost 5,000 different schools. In 2012-2013, 2,188 incidents are listed. Judging from the Nova Scotia disclosures, those figures look to be remarkably low.

The Ontario school boards were later found to be under-reporting or inaccurately reporting their incidents of violence. The Peel District School Board, appears to lead the pack with 641 total incidents in 2011-2012 and then again in 2012-2013 with 478. The largest board in the province, the Toronto District School Board reported only 177 incidents in the first year and 178 in the second year of tracking the incidents. York Region, which is around the same size as Peel, reported 30 incidents and 38 incidents. In all, 10 of Ontario’s 73 school boards reported no incidents in 2011-2012, and 11 reported no incidents in 2012-2013. Twenty boards reported less than 10 incidents in 2011-2012 and 22 boards report less than 10 incidents in 2012-2013.

After Stu Auty, founding president of the Canadian Safe Schools Network, raised concerns about the accuracy of the reporting, and the Ministry of Education eventually conceded that the numbers were problematic for comparative purposes. Trafficking drugs the Peel public schools, for example, was reported to the province as a violent incident, even though it lay outside the reporting guidelines. A quick look at the figures highlighted a number of other irregularities. In 2011-2012, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board reported 191 violent incidents. The next year, it reported zero.

Educational experts from Pedro Noguera (1995) and J.A. Baker (1998) to Stephen Jull (2000) tend to dispute claims made by school officials and teacher unions about the incidence of, and motivations behind, acts of school violence. Declining enrollments and recent crime statistics suggest that violent conduct and behaviour may not be as prevalent as reported, and that the student interactions are inseparably connected to the “learning climate” and rigidity of school discipline policies. Scare stories about student violence, experts claim, tell only part of the story and may reveal more about the level of coercion in schools and the effectiveness of school policy in promoting social and cultural acceptance and inclusion of those who are severely challenged or marginalized

A series of school disciplinary policy changes have been implemented over the past 20 years in an attempt to curb violence in schools and to stamp out bullying in hallways and playgrounds. Whatever happened to the Zero Tolerance and Safe Schools policy initiatives? Are acts of school violence and bullying escalating as much as is being reported? If one out of ten acts of violence are directed toward teachers, is that a worrisome trend? How reliable are the current school violence reports as a basis for framing school discipline policy?

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A small American school district in Arkansas recently captured the headlines by attempting to arm 20 volunteer teachers and staff with handguns starting in August 2013. That initiative has simply reignited the North American debate about the best way to protect children and ensure safer schools. The school under the microscope, Clarksville High School, would be the first in the state to take this step under a state law that allows licensed, armed security guards on campus. Teachers in the program would, after undergoing 53 hours of training, function as security guards as well as educators. It’s merely the latest response of school districts to the horrific shooting at Newtown, Connecticut, in December of 2012.

GunsinSchoolsThe wave of parental concern after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings prompted Superintendent David Hopkins to re-evaluate the Arkansas district’s school security procedures, even though the town of some 9,200, about 100 miles northwest of Little Rock, is not regarded as unsafe or dangerous. State officials, respecting the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms) and the local law, were remarkably slow to step forward to block the plan. It will likely be aborted because Arkansas School Commissioner Tom Kimbrell favours deploying security officers rather than arming classroom teachers.

Arming teachers remains controversial, even in the American Deep South and Texas. It was proposed by the National Rifle Asociation in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre. State bills in Texas and Michigan fell short of passage after generating resistance from leading educators and warnings from insurance companies about the impact on premiums. The cost of supplying weapons ($1,100 per gun) and providing training also proved to be impediments. In spite of those factors, the strategy of deploying guards and arming teachers still has its supporters, especially in rural, conservative-minded American states.

Putting guns in schools strikes most Canadians as totally bizarre, even those living in troubled inner city communities. Speaking on CTV’s Question Period in December 2012, Stu Auty, founder of the Canadian Safe Schools Network
claimed that it was a matter of “weapon availability” as well a continental cultural differences. School shootings like the horrific one in Taber, Alberta, do happen in Canada, he acknowledged, but they tend to involve illegal hand guns rather than high powered assault weapons. Concealing weapons is also still extremely rare on Canadian streets.

Since the 9/11 Security Crisis and the 2005 Dawson College mass shootings, most K to 12 schools have significantly beefed-up security and instituted new internal and external emergency response procedures. Electronic security is visible at school entrances and all doors are locked except the controlled access front entrance. Many big city high schools now have armed police officers on or near the school grounds.

There is a marked difference, however, in the approach taken in Canada to ensure school safety and security. Safe School policies in Canadian school districts have tended to follow and mimic the guidelines promoted by Stu Auty and his Safe Schools Network. Most of the strategy is preventative rather than deterrent, focusing on allieviating the root causes and minimizing the risks of violence in and around the schools. Deploying guns is not part of the strategy and the intent is to keep children safe by ensuring that schools are essentially “weapon-free zones.” It is not unknown for high school students to carry concealed weapons(mostly switch-blades, or knives), but they do so knowing that they are strictly prohibited and aware of the consequences of violating that rule.

What impact can excessive security measures have on schools? Back in December 2012, Doran Horowitz, Director of the Centre for Israel-Jewish Affairs, put it best. “We try to avoid barricaded schools and classrooms,” he told CTV’s Question Period. ” It’s important to avoid adopting the ‘Fort Knox’ mentality in schools.”

Why are American school districts increasingly deploying guns and armed guards in the schools? Is arming teachers a sensible or an effective strategy? Do we know how students react to their teachers when they come to class armed with concealed weapons? Does it create a chill that discourages student engagement in learning? What is really achieved by barricading the classroom and looking upon the outside world with a fearful set of eyes?

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School design architect Prakesh Nair is a crusader for 21st century schools who believes that “the classroom has been obsolete for several decades.” In a July 2011 Education Week commentary, the visionary leader of Fielding Nair International  claimed that the classroom was “the most visible symbol of a failed system” — an archaic system of  “classroom-based schools.”  “The classroom is obsolete, ” he added, and that’s a problem because it was now “established science.”

Nair’s visionary speeches, writings, and designs provoke an immediate reaction in the real educational world. Concerned parents and teachers invariably raise their hand or take to an education blog exclaiming : “But the open classroom experiment of the ’70s was a dismal failure.”  It does raise a fundamental question, one recently posed by The Globe and Mail’s Kate Hammer – ” If open concept was a flop, why are we going back?”

Futurists like Nair are resurrecting the Open Concept School and presenting that model of school design as the key to re-engineering schools for 21st century learning, preparing students for the Digital Workplace. His firm, based in Minneapolis, MN, has designed 400 schools in 36 different countries, and is now establishing a beachhead in Western Canada.  Nair and his partner Randy Fielding have completely sold the Regina Public Schools on the idea and are building one in Vancouver, Lord Kitchener Elementary School.

The new Open Concept Schools touted by Fielding Nair International are based explicitly upon “education design principles for tomorrow’s schools.”  Classroom-based schools are considered a “relic” of the Industrial Revolution, and they are seeking to re-invent schools to promote critical thinking, collaboration, and flexibility among students. The first six of the dozen underlying principles reaffirm the return of “progressive education” ideas in a new guise: “1) personalized; 2) safe and secure, 3) inquiry-based, 4) student-centered, 5) collaborative, and 6) interdisciplinary. ”  Grafted onto the list are: “7) rigorous and hands-on, 8) embodying a culture of excellence and high expectations, 9) environmentally conscious, 10) connected to the community, 11) globally networked, and 12) setting the stage for lifelong learning.”

The Fielding Nair schools, and others of similar design, are visually impressive, but largely based upon contemporary design theory rather than school-based research. One of Canada’s few school design academics, Dr. Neil Gislason, author of Building Innovation, is skeptical about the firm’s claims and the likelihood of ready teacher acceptance.  He finds the new design environments, like the old Open Concept model, to be too susceptible to exterior noise, distractions, and disciplinary interruptions.  Today, with the higher proportion of “special needs” children, he sees great potential for distractions.

School design architects like Nair are inclined to base their designs upon the “form follows function” principle. Perhaps that is why, whatever the intention, the new designs tend to conform with so-called “progressive” learning theories and to undervalue the need for more contained learning spaces better suited to direct instruction and knowledge-based pedagogy.  They also completely ignore or are oblivious to the many studies documenting the decline and fall of “open concept” schools and classrooms from 1968 until 1979.

Open area school design is making a comeback, in spite of the evidence that it failed miserably three decades ago. Most of the initial research on open area learning was driven by its proponents and it virtually evaporated in the late 1970s when teachers and parents intervened to undo the damage inflicted by such “experiments” with open, largely unsupervised or regulated  “learning spaces.”

What happened to  restore order to those chaotic and “learn at your own pace” classroom environments?  Regular classroom teachers, supported by parents, asserted their autonomy and showed remarkable ingenuity in fashioning “purposeful learning environments” out of the seeming chaos.

One British Columbia teacher, M. Costa, has described the response in the trenches of teaching.  Writing in Educational Insights (March 2004), Costa artfully described the “teacher adaptations” rendering open area schools suitable for teaching students much more effectively. “The lack of walls and the absence of barriers,” he wrote,  proved unbearable in many schools as “noise” was “amplified through sheer aggregation.”  Voices, moving desks, cabinet doors opening, footsteps, pencil sharpening, PA announcements, cries, shouts, and laughter made it next-to-impossible for students or teachers to concentrate on their lessons.  Teachers responded instinctively, creating partitions, hiving-off quiet areas, and successfully lobbying for the return of self-contained classrooms.

Curricular programs that demand effective teaching, quiet reflection, and analysis will never go out of fashion, especially with today’s parents. Special needs children also thrive in quiet, safe, and secure learning environments free from student traffic, noise, and distractions. Taken together, academically able students and “special needs” kids represent a significant proportion of today’s students and they will continue to thrive better in smaller, contained classrooms where the focus is on learning not fraternizing with your peers.

Why are Classroom-Based Schools under attack, again, in public education? Will the “Learning Suite” design models ever supplant the traditional classroom, especially in Canadian high schools? Why in the world are regular classroom teachers rarely consulted in the initial design of today’s schools?  Why do school design architects like Fielding and Nair simply ignore the lessons of the past?

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The controversial video of the former Dartmouth Junior High principal Ken Fells has now gone international, following news that it was leaked to Atlantic Frank by none other than the Halifax Board Superintendent’s husband, Dr. Chris Olsen.  The shocking news about the source of the leak has touched off calls for a provincial inquiry and a full review of the Superintendent’s conduct.  The latest crisis has brought the Board under world-wide scrutiny and is now among the most discussed educational topics virtually everywhere.  Yet, among Nova Scotia officialdom, all of this has been greeted by a puzzling silence.

Three days after the damaging revelation, the Nova Scotia Education Minister Marilyn More was finally compelled to respond.  Instead of addressing the fundamental issues, she announced a school video security crackdown, ignoring calls for a provincial inquiry and a full review of the Halifax Board Superintendent’s conduct.  She may have taken her cue from the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union. Amidst all the chaos of the recent revelations, the NSTU issued a peculiar Media Release (June 4, 2010) defending the reputation of Ken Fells and claiming it had been sullied by the Superintendent’s husband’s actions.

The Halifax Regional School Board is now under intense pressure to re-open the whole matter. The Toronto Globe and Mail and CNN have weighed in, both claiming that that Ken Fells used “excessive force” in “manhandling the student” to seize his cell phone.  Public opinion is hardening, judging from the online comments on The Chronicle Herald news website.  When CBC-TV Nova Scotia (June 4 ) asked – “Should  Carole Olsen continue as the HRSB  Superintendent?,”  the results were overwhelming. Commentors calling for her departure outnumbered those opposed by a 3 to 1 margin.  Adding to the confusion, one Board member has broken ranks and called for Ken Fells’ restoration at Graham Creighton Junior High School.

The Nova Scotia Education Department’s focus on school video surveillance will only open a new debate. By side-stepping the core issues, the Minister may have opened a new “can of worms.”  Focusing on the security of school video systems seems like a strange response to all of this worldwide scrutiny.  It might be interpreted as a reaction conditioned by a “siege mentality.”   Lashing out at the “leakers” certainly protects the system and reassures the beleaguered staff.  In all likelihood, the idea came from the NSTU and is aimed at calming the waters among teachers.

School boards now routinely video daily activities as a security measure and, since 9-11, most schools are well protected from intruders and emergency threats. All entrances and most hallways are under video surveillance.  Some classrooms in Canada’s larger cities are also taped, allegedly for security reasons. Oddly enough, we may have Ken Fells to thank for making this known to a much wider audience.

After 9-11, we were quite willing to accept such massive intrusions into our personal lives because of the very real terrorist threat.  Today, the challenges facing schools  are quite different. Building collegial, trusting communities is, once again, an aspirational goal for schools.

The Big Question concerning School Video Surveillance is: How much school security is too much?  Should we be taping virtually everything  happening in our schools? Whose rights are being protected? In the case of the Ken Fells controversy, is it the rights of private property or individual rights?  And whose individual rights?

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