Safety in the classroom has been an ongoing issue for educators in Durham Region with some feeling the situation has reached a breaking point, but Ontario’s education minister says that violence shouldn’t be tolerated.
“I was punched in the head multiple times in one week,” Jennifer, a front line teacher with the Durham District School Board, said, adding some of the children who initiated physical contact have been as young as seven or eight years old.
“It’s just not OK for anyone to hit, kick, spit, punch other kids, other adults in the building … teachers, EAs, principals.”
Global News agreed to withhold Jennifer’s real identity as she said she feels speaking out could mean losing her job.
WATCH: Durham Region teacher speaks out about safety in the classroom. Tom Hayes has more. (May 10)
Jennifer works in an integrated classroom where students with special needs and those without are in the same class.
She said she has heard similar stories from other Durham schools, where teachers and educational assistants have been issued Kevlar-like jackets and shin pads.
Jennifer said she hasn’t received training and hasn’t been told how to wear the protective equipment. She said she has accumulated several reports over a six-month period of incidents she has witnessed or experienced.
“I’m afraid to go into the classroom — imagine what (the students) are feeling … It’s supposed to be the best time of their lives,” she said.
“They’re not safe, they’re not feeling safe.” she said.
The Durham District School Board issued a statement to Global News in response to the concerns raised.
“We value the ongoing input of all staff and we would continue to encourage any staff member to bring concerns to the attention of their school principal and or the superintendent of education,” the statement read in part.
“Our students with special needs have the same right to an education as all other students. Similar to other Ontario school boards, we strive to provide a balance between their needs and the safety of our students and staff. Our goal is to provide a safe, inclusive learning environment for everyone.”
WATCH: Parents say violent incidents in Oshawa elementary school classroom raise concerns. Tom Hayes reports. (May 2)
Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter, who is a strong supporter of integrated classrooms, told Global News she’s aware of the concerns in Durham and that violence isn’t tolerated.
“No one should feel that their personal safety is at risk. I want our schools to be a place of safety, at the same time we want to ensure that we support students of all abilities in the classroom,” Hunter told Global News.
“No one should be getting hurt. That’s not accepted … We have to have a continuous process of reviewing safety plans. That’s something that I would expect. I’ve been in touch with this board – it’s an expectation.”
Meanwhile, psychologist Dr. Sam Klarreich said attacks in the classroom can send a negative message to other students.
“A lot of learning goes in in that classroom — healthy learning as well as unhealthy learning, and it’s the unhealthy learning I’d be concerned about as a parent.”
Tom Hayes contributed to this report
Full statement from the Durham District School Board:
We encourage our staff to continue to bring concerns forward. Health and safety, as a standing agenda item at school staff meetings, is just one example of practices we have in place to foster an open dialogue regarding concerns. We place great emphasis on ensuring that our very capable principals and vice principals operationalize their role under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Our students with special needs have the same right to an education as all other students. Similar to other Ontario school boards, we strive to provide a balance between their needs and the safety of our students and staff. Our goal is to provide a safe, inclusive learning environment for everyone.
We value the ongoing input of all staff and we would continue to encourage any staff member to bring concerns to the attention of their school principal and or the Superintendent of Education.
There are many avenues available to support staff including their union representatives, their school administration, and board staff, who work collaboratively to resolve issues. Safety is a shared responsibility.