The union representing elementary teachers in Durham Region says violence in some classrooms is hurting its members, which has parents and officials calling for more supports.
Durham Local Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario held a meeting in Oshawa Tuesday evening entitled “Safe schools for all” to discuss increased violence in schools, the education funding formula and special education.
“We have some of our members who are off on long-term disability. We have some who have been permanently, negatively impacted. Their psychological, their physical, their emotional health because of issues of violence within their work environment, and that’s unacceptable,” union president David Mastin told Global News.
“So from a teacher perspective, that’s something that we have to address. But … from a parent perspective, there are students that are witnessing violence, that are creating norms and values based on what their experiencing and that also is a significant problem.”
Mastin said the union is aware of an “extremely large number” of student incidents and instances involving students and teachers.
“We’re talking about everything from biting, from kicking to pinching, all the way to grabbing hair, smashing heads on the desk. If you can imagine it, it’s happening,” he said.
The meeting comes after Global News heard from educators and parents across Ontario about their concerns over integrated classrooms and supports being offered to children with disabilities.
WATCH: Ontario mother of student with special needs speaks out about reports of classroom violence. Tom Hayes reports. (May 16)
Global News spoke with Jennifer, a Durham District School Board front line teacher whose identity was withheld by Global News due to her concerns about how it could impact her job, earlier in May about what she experienced.
“I was punched in the head multiple times in one week,” Jennifer said, adding some of the children who initiated physical contact have been as young as seven or eight years old.
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.
Erin MacCormick, a mother of two students at Beau Valley Public School in Oshawa, attended Tuesday’s meeting and expressed concern and said her children have witnessed violent behavior at school.
“There’s a lot of violence that’s not necessarily, you know, drag ‘em, beat ‘em up type of violence,” MacCormick said, adding there’s frustration when teachers are disrupted due to in-class behaviours.
“There’s outbursts, there’s disruptions in the classroom and there are times where they – teachers, principals, administration – are being hit, so there is violence but it’s on many levels.”
She said she hopes that officials are listening to the concerns being raised.
“These students need help. These educators need help. They need assistance, they need support,” MacCormick said.
“You can’t put every kid in the same square box and expect to have the same result. We need support. We need just basically everyone having the right to the education they deserve.”
She added public meetings discussing classroom violence is not about assigning blame.
“It’s not pointing fingers. It’s not saying anyone is wrong. It’s about how do we find the solution, how do we make it better?”
WATCH: Premier Kathleen Wynne questioned about safety in school classrooms. Tom Hayes reports. (May 17)
Jennifer French, the NDP MPP who represents Oshawa, said she and other politicians have raised the possibility of issuing Kevlar-like equipment, and supports for students with special needs, in the Ontario. She said the government is now talking about violence, but she wants to see improvements.
“We have an example here of so much need, not enough in the way of resources – whether that’s hands on, whether that’s support when something goes wrong,” French said.
“We need the government to appropriately approach education and say, ‘OK, every child has the right to reach their full potential whether that is a child with special needs whether that is you know someone sitting quietly in the back who needs that little extra pull or whether it’s a student who’s aiming for university.’”
WATCH: Ontario education minister responds to violence in Durham Region classrooms. Tom Hayes reports. (May 11)
Global News previously took the concerns directly to Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter, who is a supporter of integrated classrooms. She said violence shouldn’t be tolerated and put the responsibility for the issue on provincial school boards.
“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.
“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.”
With files from Alana MacLeod