To read all the stories in this series, click here.
Kicked in the face. Punched in the ribs. Scratched to the point of drawing blood. This is the violence some teachers in Edmonton schools face when they go to work.
There were 311 reported incidents of student violence against Edmonton teachers in the 2016 to 2017 school year, according to an analysis of employee incident reports obtained by Global News from the Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) and the Edmonton Catholic School District (ECSD) through Freedom of Information requests.
The numbers appear proportional to the size of each school board; during the 2016 to 2017 school year: the Edmonton Public had 213 incidents in 205 schools while the Edmonton Catholic had 98 incidents in 90 schools.
The incident reports for both school boards contain information such as the school, the job title of the person involved, the body part affected, the nature of the injury and what type of care was required. Large sections of the reports were redacted, with the school boards citing privacy concerns that the details could identify the students or teachers involved.
The information in the reports paints a picture of a workplace where many teachers and educational assistants are on the receiving end of various forms of violence, though there is not much information about why the student instigated the action or what needs they may have.
LISTEN BELOW: Greg Jeffery, president of the Alberta Teachers Association, speaks with 630 CHED’s Ryan Jespersen
The reports reveal there were 91 incidents in both school boards of students biting or spitting on a teacher, 67 situations where a teacher got hit or punched and 50 cases where students kicked a teacher.
One incident reported at Rosslyn School in north Edmonton saw an educational assistant (EA) write that a “student turned on me and attacked me by grabbing my face and scratching and breaking my skin with [the student’s] hands and fingernails.”
Eric Anderman, the head of the Department of Education Studies at Ohio State University, recently collaborated with the American Psychological Association and completed a study in the United States examining violence against teachers at the hands of students. He said Canada is likely seeing a similar situation to the U.S. when it comes to violence against teachers.
“There are probably schools, and it’s fair to say, that don’t want to report this widely because they don’t want their school to be seen as a dangerous place,” Anderman said.
First aid and medical attention
In 117 of cases reported in Edmonton, the teacher or EA required first aid as a result of the incident. But what’s more concerning are the 45 cases where the teacher or EA required medical aid or was required to take time off work. Many of the reports are heavily redacted or are not completely filled out so the numbers regarding first aid, medical aid or time off may actually be higher.
The report indicates the EA required a tetanus shot after the incident.
WATCH: An EPSB spokesperson and the ATA president respond to the findings of a Global News investigation on student violence towards teachers.
The following incident was reported by an EA at Greenfield School in southwest Edmonton while bringing in a student from recess:
“I…fell on the ice. While I was down, [the student] kicked my right knee area…[the] pain become unbearable, so I went to emergency…and got X-rays.”
In one instance from the ECSD, an educator required medical aid after a student “swung and hit me in the cheek below the eye two times,” while another incident saw a teacher receive first aid after a student “pulled my hair, pinched me several times and kicked me in the knee.”
“Certainly when first aid or medical attention is required, these are serious issues,” said Greg Jeffery, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association.
“We need our teachers to be protected in the classroom.”
More incidents in elementary schools
The data analyzed by Global News showed that the majority of incidents within the EPSB happened in elementary schools; again, the ECSD redacted the names of all schools in the incident reports.
Anderman said the prevalence of incidents in elementary schools isn’t surprising.
“That pretty much aligns with our data. Younger children have less impulse control, less self-control so, not excusing the behaviour, but developmentally younger children are more likely to hit, to lash out, to say things they might regret saying later,” he said.
Brenda Gummer, director of inclusive learning and specialized services for the EPSB, said classrooms are becoming increasingly complex.
“We take the security and safety of all of our staff very seriously,” she said.
“We want to ensure all of our staff and our students have a safe learning environment. Our emphasis is on training and the preventative strategies to support all of our learners.”
Jeffery said the association has seen more conversations about aggression recently.
Despite the number of incidents reported, Jeffery said he doesn’t think teachers are in danger.
“When you consider the number of classrooms and the numbers…reported, our schools are safe places but we want to make them even safer.”
COMING UP: Could there be more violence in schools than we think? Global News looks at the issue of under-reporting in the second part of this series on violence against teachers. Watch for that on Tuesday, both online and on Global News Hour at 6.
Do you have a story? Or something you want investigated? Email reporter Julia Wong in confidence at firstname.lastname@example.org