Archive for the ‘School Violence’ Category

Fists and knives have re-appeared in Canada’s high schools in the wake of the pandemic shutdowns. Back in June of 2022, Ottawa parent Sarah Murray went public after Nepean High School officials left her in the dark, then hushed-up a washroom beating administered to her son by local bullies. What really upset her was the school’s policy of keeping quiet about “traumatic experiences.”

Nor is it safe to be milling around in front of some high schools. A 15-year-old Grade 10 boy made national headlines in February 2023 when he was shot during lunchtime outside Toronto’s Weston Collegiate, ran inside and was comforted by teachers, before being rushed to the nearest trauma centre. Such incidents are no longer isolated events.

While school shootings are still rare, regular and ongoing violence in and around schools is getting worse. Ontario’s  high school teachers’ union president Karen Littlewood finally blew the whistle, calling for help from provincial and local authorities to help insure that schools, and classrooms are safe.

As the advocate for 55,000 educators in hundreds of high schools, Littlewood expressed alarm, not just for the well-being of students, but for the safety of teachers, mental health support personnel, child and youth workers.  While GTA disturbances attract the most attention, she reported that its now widespread in the wake of the COVID-19 school disruptions. “These incidents were happening across the province, she said, and it’s now reached “a crisis level.”

 The Toronto District School Board, Canada’s largest school district, is – as usual- ground zero and the most graphic illustration of how dangerous today’s schools have become for students, teachers, and education support workers.

There’s “no easy fix” to the problem of school violence, according to the hard pressed TDSB communications point man, Ryan Byrd.  That’s likely because, as a TDSB committee heard in December 2022, the prevalence of violence is alarming. School shootings attract cameras, but some 622 young people between the ages of 12 and 29 were reportedly victims of stabbings between January of 2021 and November 2022.

Classroom teachers are alarmed enough to be speaking up out-of-school. A particularly effective, well-articulated Thomas B. Fordham Institute commentary, written by Daniel Buck, a young American teacher with 7-years’ experience, touched a nerve, attracting thousands of Twitter views and retweets. Many of the retweets were sparked by “Teachers Unite,” an outspoken voice for teacher advocacy in Canada.

“Soft-on-consequences discipline” was a critical factor contributing to unruly “student behaviour” diving fellow teachers to quit the classroom and proving to be “terrible for teachers.” “While most discussion about student behaviour…focuses on its impact upon students,” he wrote, “too often the effects on teachers are simply overlooked. They’re collateral damage that rarely gets a mention.”

Amid fears of a national U.S. teacher shortage, the National Education Association now claims that half of all American teachers have reported considering or actively planning to quit because of deteriorating school climate and safety.  So far, it has not reached that crisis point in Canada’s provincial school systems.

Workplace violence is a growing problem in Canada’s schools, judging from a series of credible reports from province-to-province. “Biting, kicking and verbal abuse” are so prevalent in Manitoba schools that the provincial Workplace Safety and Health Department recently classified schools as one of the “high-risk industries” along with foundries, sawmills and demolition sites. CUPE Manitoba president Gina McKay, representing 6,000 school support workers identified the scope of the problem. “We’ve known systemic issues,” she told CTV News Winnipeg, “and they’re building.”

Teachers in British Columbia have also been alerted to the extent of time lost through injuries incurred in school workplaces. A 2021 Work Safe BC online report, entitled “Time-loss claims in public school districts,” documented 16,812 claims registered by teachers, teaching assistants, and administrators between 2011 and 2020. It’s recently emerged as an issue raised by the BCTF in its representations and contract negotiations.

A Nova Scotia Freedom of Information request tore the lid of the hidden problem in that province’s schools. The resulting January 2022 story in the Halifax Chronicle Herald revealed that some 11,240 violent incidents were reported during the 2020-21 school year, at a time when school was closed for several weeks as a result of COVID-19 health measures.

Nova Scotia Education Minister Becky Druhan claimed that the 2020-21 incident numbers were on a par with other years, but that’s not entirely accurate. Violent incidents were twice as common in the aftermath of the spring 2020 COVID-19 shutdown, and most of the incidents affected grades 5 to 9, not primary to grade 6, as reported in the FOIPOP release.

After the initial information leak, Nova Scotia Education has kept school violence rates and student behaviour data under wraps. Bullying incidents are reported as a matter of provincial policy and, over two years, 2020-21 and 2021-22, some 2,072 incidents were recorded from primary to grade 9, confirming that 67 per cent happened in grades 6 to 9, at the junior high level. Violent acts, sexual assaults, sexual harassment, and verbal abuse are not reported to the public.  

In Nova Scotia, as in Manitoba, the education sector accounts for an alarming proportion of workers compensation claims. While the overall number of workplace violence claims in Nova Scotia is highest in the “Health/Social Services” sector, the “Education Services” sector is second highest. Over the past decade, the Workers Compensation Board of Nova Scotia (WCBNS), reported that the “Educational Services” sector had the highest per cent rate of claims due to violence. The 10-year average of violent claims was 11.28 per cent of its employees, peaking at 16.32 per cent in 2019.  

Violence is now commonplace in today’s classrooms, hallways, fields, and parking lots. Regular disturbances, low-level disruptions, and verbal abuse tends to go unreported, in most case out of fear of reprisals or because there are so few disciplinary consequences.

Nowhere is that more evident than in Nova Scotia, a middling province widely regarded as a bell weather for national education trends. A recent blog report posted by Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education (January 25, 2023) rings true. “School staff report being discouraged from documenting incidents of violence,” the advocacy group claimed. When recording cannot be avoided, the post continued “the process is difficult and the mechanism for reporting, featuring drop-down menus, limits a full and accurate reporting of incidents.”

The Nova Scotia violent incident reporting system is also full of holes when it comes to accountability and tracking at the school or system level.  Privacy protocols are strictly upheld and prevent victims from being named in perpetrator’s reports, precluding long-term tracing of patterns incidents over time. Most troubling of all, educators report (off-the-record) that there is no established reporting standard to ensure the consistency of teacher documentation.

Reporting protocols and data collection practices in Nova Scotia are widely varying from school district to school district, and even from school to school. Some school principals discourage teachers from reporting violent incidents (which might reflect badly on a school’s reputation); others insist on filling in the information for their teachers. Educational assistants and child support workers are often victims, but – in most cases — have to rely on regular teachers or administrators to report such incidents.

Hair-raising stories of school violence in schools, once contained and concealed by school principals and education districts, are now quickly and readily shared on social media. Local parent and teacher advocacy groups, such as Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education, provide a conduit for gathering and circulating intelligence gathered by parents and teachers at the school level. Candid student mobile phone photos and videos end up on Facebook and Twitter, some depicting troubling personal attacks, teachers’ verbal abuse, and mistreatment of kids with learning challenges.


Mental health experts and professors have now coalesced around a consistent position on the wisdom of keeping kids in school after the pandemic.  “Schools should be the first to open, and the last to close” is the predominant policy direction, especially since the August 2021 release of the Royal Society of Canada’s research report on “Children and Schools during COVID-19 and Beyond,” published by University of Ottawa education psychologist Tracy Vaillancourt and a team of leading researchers.

Many Canadian parents, health professionals and child psychologists harbour quiet doubts about how safe, secure and healthy schools really are in the wake of the COVID-19 disruption and its aftermath. “While acknowledging the important role that schools can play in students’ access to food and other needs,” NSPPE recently pointed out, “many parents and child experts objected strongly to the portrayal of schools” as ‘safe spaces.’

The recent rash of highly-publicized violent incidents provides us with a much needed reality check on the everyday realities of today’s school culture, especially in middle and senior grades, where violence, bullying, sexual harassment, racial incidents, and negative mental health experiences are far too common for students, teachers and education workers.

 Students do belong in school but not in unsafe and dangerous classrooms. Now that normalcy is slowly returning, it’s incumbent upon us to ensure that those schools and classrooms are safe for the pandemic generation of kids.*

*An earlier version of this commentary appeared in The National Post, Saturday February 25, 2023. 

What’s behind the recent resurgence of violence in Canadian schools? Is it really new or just a return to the turbulent conditions pre-pandemic?  How much of the student-on-student and student-on-teacher violence is attributable to so-called “progressive’ school discipline?  Why is data on dangerous workplaces easier to access than regular reports of student violence and misconduct? Is it time to ask –Who’s running the schools?  

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A critical public debate over student behaviour policy and practice has recently surfaced in the Ontario city of London and surrounding region, sparked by a recent explosion of school violence the its public schools.  Two-and-a-half years into the pandemic disrupted schooling era, tension, turbulence and bullying can no longer be swept under the carpet. Violent incidents in the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB)’s 154 elementary schools more than doubled to 900 in October 2022, compared to some 400 in June of last year. That uptick in disruptions may not be an isolated phenomenon but rather a barometer of what’s actually happening inside and outside of classrooms.

What’s most troubling is that many episodes of student-on-student violence go unreported and it’s really a sign of turmoil that runs deeper in school culture. Whole classes are evacuated to isolate and subdue angry or frustrated students acting out in school. Elementary parents complain about rampant violence in younger grades and overwhelmed staff unable to curb the violence or provide support or protection for children.

The local teachers’ union and the odd brave teacher are speaking out-of-school.  One Grade 8 teacher, identified only as “Tom,” blamed a board discipline policy which is not only ‘unclear and confusing,’ but paves the way for students to reoffend. “There is zero accountability,” he told CBC News London Morning, hiding his identity out of fear for possible consequences.

Nor is it confined to elementary schools. For the past two years, a few London city high schools have been in near constant turmoil.  Local police reported making 28 calls to one London high school, Saunders Secondary School, from October 2021 to April 22 to break up fights, respond to mental health issues, or investigate assaults, property damage, thefts and other incidents. Two 16-year-old boys were stabbed in September near A.B. Lucas Secondary School and more recently, in late November, students described a frantic and bloody scene at H.B. Beal SS after a teen girl stabbed another over lunchtime in the cafeteria.

School districts like Ontario’s Thames Valley DSB were unprepared for the rising incidence of violence and the near constant problem of ‘low-level disruptions’ besetting classrooms.  The Ontario school board is typical of most of the 72 districts in the province.  Faced with repeated incidents and intense media scrutiny, TVDSB Director of Education Mark Fisher has declined comment or instructed senior school officials to either defend existing ‘’progressive discipline” policy or assign blame to “what’s happening in communities” following the pandemic.

After having implemented school-wide positive, preventive student behaviour policies over the past fifteen years or so, school principals and classroom teachers have been deprived of traditional deterrents – office reports, suspensions and, in some extreme cases, expulsions. Integrating most students with complex needs into regular classrooms, in the midst of the turmoil and with totally inadequate resource supports, have merely compounded the problems.

Current student behaviour policy dates back to April 2007 in Ontario when former Premier, then Education Minister, Kathleen Wynne (2006-2010), abandoned the ‘zero tolerance’ approach to curbing bullying. Heeding the advice and counsel of her Deputy Minister Ben Levin, Wynne sought to curtail the high incidence of suspensions which were, at that time, found to be disproportionately affecting students from marginalized or disadvantaged communities.

Positive Emotional Behaviour Supports (PEBS or SW-PBS) approaches, introduced since 2007 in Ontario and elsewhere across North America, have dramatically reduced the use of suspensions and resulted in the virtual elimination of expulsions, the last resort in school discipline. Curbing the use of sanctions has meant keeping students in school is now the priority, often through the expanded use of ‘time-out’ rooms, Individual Education Plans (IEPs), restorative justice remedies, and ‘social promotion’ to the next grade.


The official Ontario school suspension data tells the story across the system with some 2 million students. In 2007-08, 94,386 Ontario students were listed as “suspensions” (4.32 per cent of all students) and 996 were reported as “expulsions” (0.05 per cent). By 2019-20, the last year reported, total suspensions were down to 46,990 (2.21 per cent) and only 245 students were recorded as “expulsions” (0.01 per cent).

The reported data for TVDSB has suspensions dropping from 4,918 (5.86 per cent) to 3,275 (3.91 per cent) but looks totally unreliable for “expulsions.” The board reported less than 10 expulsions a year from 2007-08 to 2016-17, then slowly rising each year to 15 in 2019-20 before the pandemic. Those figures for expulsions need to be audited for accuracy.

Speaking truth to power in K-12 education can be exceedingly frustrating because it’s usually met with a wall of silence. TVDSB Grade 8 teacher “Tom” is a brave soul who speaks for many frontline teachers with their heads down, toughing it out and left to deal with the problem on their own, day-in-and day-out, in post-pandemic school closure times.

Progressive student behaviour approaches are now unequal to the challenge, according to classroom teachers and engaged parents. Violent, disruptive and disrespectful students are free, in far too many schools, to do erode learning and sustain the turmoil with impunity.

Local Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (EFTO) president in the TVDSB Craig Smith has lifted the veil. “We have moved from one pendulum of zero tolerance to now one of almost complete latitude,” he says, surveying the current student behaviour landscape. The current approach is anything but ‘progressive’ if it’s scaring schoolchildren and allowing violence and low-level disruptions to flourish in elementary and secondary schools.

How representative is the turmoil besetting Ontario’s Thames Valley regional school district educating the vast majority of London’s public school children and teens? Was adopting “positive behaviour supports” policy and completely abandoning “zero tolerance” for violence a wise decision? Is the current PBIS approach working for students, teachers and families?  Will it survive the current wave of post-pandemic school disruptions?

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recent CBC News series featured heart-breaking stories of violence — physical, psychological and sexual — inflicted on students in today’s schools. All of this came hard on the heels of the horrendous stabbing death of 14-year-ol Devan Bracci-Selvey in front of Hamilton’s Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School.

Raising our consciousness about the dangers students face is much easier than grappling with why Canadian schools are falling short in addressing the chronic problem of violence, bullying, and sexual harassment in the first place. That challenge has confronted us for more than a decade since the release of Julian Falconer’s massive January 2008 report The Road to Health, which looked at tackling student violence in the Toronto District School Board.

School authorities from province to province, we learned from the CBC investigation, still collect incident reports on student violence in vastly different ways. The result is a crazy-quilt patchwork of data with far too many schools and regions that file no reports at all. Only two of the provinces, Ontario and Nova Scotia, require schools to share their school violence statistics with their education ministries. Even so, in the case of Ontario, that data was found to be incomplete and inaccurate.Given the paucity of reliable statistics, it’s next to impossible to analyze this disturbing social trend in our schools.

To get to the bottom of the problem, CBC’s Marketplace commissioned a nationwide survey of 4,000 young people, ages 14 to 21, in September of this year. The results were startling: Two out of five (41 per cent) of boys reported being physically assaulted in high school; one in four girls (26 per cent) experienced unwanted sexual contact at school; and one in four students first experienced sexual harassment or assault before Grade 7 in elementary school.

Five key factors can be identified, based upon the CBC investigation and credible research on violence in schools:

  • ‘Head-in-the-sand’ denial: Much of the school violence experienced by students is treated by officials as isolated incidents, or events requiring too much time-consuming investigation in order to assign blame or responsibility. In the absence of required reporting, it goes unacknowledged and, all too often, is swept under the rug.
  • Ineffective oversight: Even where reporting of student violence incidents is expected or required, it’s often not deemed a priority unless or until a publicized incident hits the media and arouses parental unrest. School-by-school reports may be filed, as in Ontario, but oversight is weak or non-existent and the absence of reports is not questioned, even in some cases when it involves incidents featured in local media reports.
  • Under-reporting: Many principals and administrators under-report the number of actual school violence incidents, as revealed when compared with student-reported data. In American states, where student violence reporting is more established, data generated from the victims is incorporated into the official statistics.
  • Fear of reputational risk: School administrators are often protective of a school’s reputation and reluctant to report higher counts, which might result in them being labelled a “dangerous school” if their numbers are high or rising from year to year.
  • Feeble public accountability: Educational oversight by elected school boards and district educational councils is woefully inadequate.

Illustrating that last point, Manitoba provincial school boards association president Alan Campbell says that maintaining “a safe learning environment” is the “No. 1 priority.” However, public disclosure of data is non-existent there, and levels of sexual harassment and hateful name-calling are higher than any other province in Canada. Why elected boards do not insist upon full public disclosure is hard to fathom, especially when it’s their responsibility to identify critical needs and allocate district resources.

Much can be learned from American school research, which includes critical analysis of how Ontario has collected violence statistics over the past eight years. UCLA Professor Ron Avi Astor, co-author of Bullying, School Violence, and Climate in Evolving Contexts: Culture, Organization, and Time, has published more than 200 academic studies on violent behaviour in schools. In the CBC News series, he confirmed that Canada has no real system at all for collecting data, exemplified by uneven provincial policies, lack of consistent definitions for offences, varying collection systems, and inaccurate or incomplete statistics.

StudentViolenceCBCGraphOntario deserves credit for requiring mandatory reporting, but the system does not stand up to close scrutiny. The most recent data documented 2,124 violent incidents in 2018-19, averaging about 10 incidents province-wide each day. That simply does not stack up, because 18 of Ontario’s 76 school boards have reported zero incidents for several years, eight show radical variations from year to year, and four boards are in non-compliance for having failed to file reports at all for some years.

While the CBC News report documented serious levels of violent incidents in the province when it surveyed students, more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of Ontario schools reported having no incidents of violence during the previous year.

Negligence in reporting and underreporting simply compounds the problem. When the violence statistics go unreported or are full of zeros, it becomes guesswork when allocating resources — not just funds, but counsellors, psychologists, and social workers to rectify school problems with student behaviour. Transparency in identifying problems is, after all, the critical first step in developing more effective, evidence-based harm reduction policies and in implementing school-level programs that work in reducing the incidence of student violence.

Why does the stubborn problem of student violence persist in our schools?  How can such school challenges be addressed when the data on student violence is either unreported or concealed from parents and the public?  When we do identify the extent of the problem, how well are we responding with harm reduction programs?  

Re-posted commentary, originally published on CBC’s Opinion section on November 10, 2019. 


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Biting, kicking, spitting, scratching, punching, throwing objects, and threatening harm are on the rise in Canadian elementary classrooms from coast to coast. More and more educators are not only reporting the violent incidents, but being hurt on the job in our classrooms, hallways, and playgrounds. Whole classrooms are being evacuated to allow disruptive children to calm down. That escalating crisis was recently highlighted in a fine September 7, 2019 piece of investigative journalism by The Globe and Mail’s national education reporter Caroline Alphonso.

Her investigation of how school districts are actually managing children with behavioural challenges and complex needs is eye-opening for those unfamiliar with teaching on today’s frontlines. Periodic surveys of teachers and education assistants have identified an escalating crisis, but — until now–provincial school authorities and local school districts have been slow to collect the data and most reluctant to share violent incident report information with parents or the public. Indeed, Alphonso and her Globe team found it impossible to secure the data from some provinces and major metropolitan school districts.

The facts are gradually emerging and harassment and violence against educators is becoming commonplace.  One September 2019 study, conducted by University of Ottawa researchers Darcy A. Santor, Chris Bruckert, and Kyle McBride, showed a sharp spike in the level of violence teachers face in Ontario elementary schools. In a December 2018 online survey of 1,600 educators, they found a seven-fold increase in reported incidents over the past 12 years. While only 7 per cent of Ontario elementary teachers reported experiencing bullying in 2005, some 54 per cent now report encountering violence perpetrated mostly by students, but also by parents, and administrators. Furthermore, some 72 per cent reported experiencing explicit verbal insults, putdowns, or obscene gestures from a student during 2017-18.

Out of ten provincial ministries of education, only Nova Scotia provided Alphonso and the Globe and Mail with comprehensive data.  In the 2014-15, school year, there were 631 recorded incidents of violence against an educator by a student, and the following year, 2015-16, there were 683, the vast majority of which occurred in the elementary schools. The Ontario government turned down the Globe and Mail Freedom of Information request and other provinces either claimed not to have data or unable to access it without going through school boards or other government agencies.

Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union (NSTU) president Paul Wozney expressed concern over the problem and provided what amounted to a worst case scenario. In Nova Scotia, one classroom was evacuated 12 times in a month — and students were forced to find sanctuary in another room until the disruptive child calmed down. He also reported that Nova Scotia educators, like their New Brunswick counterparts, were now wearing bite-resistant sleeves and Kevlar vests in certain high risk classrooms.

What can be done to address the problem? Most teacher union surveys and research reports, including the University of Ottawa study, are stronger on diagnosis than on prescription. The most common policy solutions, investing in more classroom resources, more teaching assistants, or more specialized professional development, are predictably in every set of recommendations and strongly favoured by school districts, teachers’ unions, and parent education funding lobby groups.

Two of the detailed University of Ottawa study findings got short shrift and deserve closer scrutiny.  Workplace violence is likely being under-reported because of fears of blame (from administration) and reprisal ( from students) in “an organizational culture” which is “ill-equipped to deal with the issue.” More importantly, in school boards which espouse “progressive discipline” under provincial mandates, there are “few consequences for students’ harassing or violent behaviour” (p. 34).

Digging deeper, it’s clear that two fundamental components of prevailing student behaviour philosophy and practice need to be seriously re-examined and likely replaced with more effective strategies: the cure-all of Positive Behaviour Supports Programs (PEBIS) and the misapplication of school restorative justice. From province-to-province, right across Canada, few educators seem to be either aware of, or attuned to, growing evidence that positive, progressive discipline has unanticipated negative long-term consequences for school principals and frontline teachers in classrooms.

Clamouring for more resources, increased staff levels, or better training has not worked, to date, so it’s surely not the ultimate answer. It’s time to adopt a completely new strategy, more in tune with the latest research on student behaviour and effective school management.  School leaders and principals need significant training in creating a culture of respect and responsibility and it’s time to look at alternatives to progressive, positive discipline and its step-child, restorative justice. It’s captured nicely in one of the University of Ottawa study recommendations calling for the “consistent application” and “implementation of student consequences that are appropriate and effective”(p. 35).

Why are teachers and education assistants facing increased violence in elementary schools?  How much of the increased student violence is the result of the rising incidence of students with severe learning challenges and complex needs? Will investing more in the prevailing student behavour programs make any real difference?  Is it time to rethink school leadership and to properly equip principals and teachers with strategies and programs that are research-proven and far more effective in ensuring safe, secure and purposeful learning for everyone? 






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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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