Just days into the new school year, the union representing elementary teachers in Durham Region has launched a new public education campaign to raise awareness about violent incidents inside classrooms.
“We collected data from our membership saying that the violence that they’re experiencing in their classrooms, in their work environment is to a level that’s not sustainable,” David Mastin, president of the Durham Local Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, told Global News Wednesday.
According to school reports and information sent directly to the union, Mastin said there were more than 300 violent incidents in Durham classrooms during 2016. Out of approximately 2,700 members surveyed, the union heard back from 791 people and Mastin said the data revealed startling information.
“I’m surprised mostly at the severity and the impact this is having on the teachers and education workers in the buildings,” he said, adding several teachers and educational assistants are accessing short-term and long-term disability.
“I have seen numbers that say our accessing of long-term disability is through the roof … I think it’s a significant reason is the violence that people are experiencing and the long-term effects, and it’s more than physical – it’s emotional, psychological and mental.”
Mastin said the union wants the provincial government to review the funding formula and look at increasing supports for students with special needs. It also wants to see more child and youth workers to support students in integrated classrooms
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Terry Simzer, a spokesperson for the Durham District School Board, said the union is taking its message to the right place.
“We look at this issue very seriously and the safety of students and our staff is of prime importance to us and it always will be,” he said.
“This is not unique to our school board. This is an issue that exists at every school board in Ontario.”
Earlier this year, Global News heard from several educators and parents across Ontario about their concerns over integrated classrooms and supports being offered to children with disabilities.
Jennifer, a Durham District School Board teacher, whose identity was withheld by Global News due to her concerns about how it could impact her job, described what she experienced.
“I was punched in the head multiple times in one week,” Jennifer said in May, noting 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 taught in the same class.
She said she had heard similar stories from other Durham schools, where teachers and educational assistants have been issued Kevlar-like jackets and shin pads.
Education Minister Mitzie Hunter announced in June there would be expanded access to student information.
“Our educational assistants and all of those who work with students need to have access to certain types of information so that they are understanding when there are sensitivities, there could be triggers,” Hunter previously said.
She also said Ministry of Labour inspectors would be visiting all school boards in Ontario beginning this school year to ensure compliance with Ontario’s health and safety laws.
Meanwhile, the Durham Local Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario will be holding three public forums in Durham Region during the week of Oct. 23.