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Violence in the classroom: Ontario mother of student with special needs speaks out

WATCH ABOVE: Ontario mother of student with special needs speaks out about reports of classroom violence. Tom Hayes reports.

Global News has been hearing from parents and teachers across Ontario for weeks about their concerns over integrated classrooms and now a Hamilton mother is speaking out about the state of the education system.

“We’ve had some major concerns about the school system and how it’s broken, and one of the concerns is the supports we’re getting,” Angela Pugliese, whose 16-year-old son James has autism, said Tuesday.

Pugliese is speaking out in response to stories aired last week on Global News about a first-hand account from a Durham District School Board teacher on reported incidents of violence in classes.

“I understood what the teacher’s perspective was, but as a parent with a special-needs child, I felt like no one was understanding what our needs are and what my son goes through on a day-to-day basis inside the school system.”

WATCH: Premier Kathleen Wynne questioned about safety in school classrooms. Tom Hayes reports. (May 17)

Premier Kathleen Wynne questioned about safety in school classrooms
Premier Kathleen Wynne questioned about safety in school classrooms
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Pugliese said James’ favourite subject is math, but added he doesn’t have enough supports to allow him to attend class.

“Unfortunately it’s not successful because he can’t attend every single math class he’s supposed to attend in order to qualify for a credit,” she said.

“I received a message from my son’s teacher stating that James is not listening in his math class that he’s been trying to integrate him into, and they’re saying that the teacher is upset. So my question is, if the teacher is upset, what are you doing to correct it? What are you doing to help?”

WATCH: Ontario education minister responds to violence in Durham Region classrooms. Tom Hayes reports. (May 11)

Ontario education minister responds to violence in Durham Region classrooms
Ontario education minister responds to violence in Durham Region classrooms

“Jennifer,” whose real identity has been withheld by Global News over concerns of job security, is one of several educators who feel safety concerns in schools have reached a breaking point.

“I was punched in the head multiple times in one week,” Jennifer, a teacher at an integrated classroom where students with special needs and those without are in the same class, previously said.

She said some of the children who initiated physical contact have been as young as seven or eight years old.

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“It’s just not OK for anyone to hit, kick, spit, punch other kids, other adults in the building … teachers, [educational assistants], principals,” Jennifer said.

READ MORE: Ontario education minister responds after Durham teacher speaks out about classroom violence

Jennifer said she hasn’t received proper training in responding to outbursts and hasn’t been told how to wear protective equipment that has been issued. Some teachers and educational assistants have been issued Kevlar-like jackets and shin pads.

Although they have different perspectives, Pugliese agrees with Jennifer on one thing — educators need increased training.

“I’m very unsatisfied. We’ve been advocating for years. It’s not fair for our children with special needs not to be able to get the right supports inside of the classrooms, and that has been the biggest issue that we’ve had,” Pugliese said.

“I’d like to see [teachers and educational assistants] know how to handle it — how to handle an outburst, how to handle [James’] meltdowns — and I’m finding they’re not trained enough to do it.”

WATCH: Durham Region teacher speaks out about safety in the classroom. Tom Hayes reports. (May 10)

Durham Region teacher speaks out about safety in the classroom
Durham Region teacher speaks out about safety in the classroom

Despite the present situation, she said she believes in the integrated classroom because it allows James to interact with all students.

The experiences described by Jennifer and Pugliese aren’t unique. Global News has also received several emails from across Ontario about the issue.

“My kids are now out in Halton Region, and guess what? The same problems exist here, too,” wrote a mother who recently moved to the region from Durham.

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“This seems like an epidemic in the Ontario school system. The children who attend the school I teach at also witness daily explosive outbursts,” a Niagara Region teacher wrote.

WATCH: Parents say violent incidents in Oshawa elementary school classroom raise concerns. Tom Hayes reports. (May 2)

Parents say violent incidents in Oshawa elementary school classroom raise concerns
Parents say violent incidents in Oshawa elementary school classroom raise concerns

At Queen’s Park, Ontario PC Party leader Patrick Brown is calling for a review.

“Clearly the system is broken,” he said.

“When there’s violence in the classroom, when teachers’ safety is at risk, obviously we need a ministerial review.”

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Global News recently took to the issue directly to Education Minister Mitzie Hunter, a strong supporter of integrated classrooms. She said 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,” she previously said.

On Tuesday, Hunter issued a further response and put the responsibility on school boards across the province.

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“All school boards are required to have policies in place relating to violent-incident reporting and prevention in schools and I expect school boards to regularly refine their safety protocols,” she wrote in a statement.

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Meanwhile, Pugliese, who said she believes the integrated classroom setting is beneficial for James, said she hopes officials will step in and offer educators increased training.

“What I want for my son is for him to get credits. I want him to succeed in life. I want him to possibly go to college, and the way it is right now, he won’t be able to because he’s not getting the credits,” she said.

“I want my son to have the best quality of life.”

— With files from Tom Hayes

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