Biting, kicking, chokeholds: Calgary teachers report violence in classrooms, documents show
Updated: Jul 26, 2020
By Andrew Jeffrey Star Calgary
Sat., Oct. 5, 2019
CALGARY—A teacher stabbed with a pencil, another tackled to the ground, a staff member put into a chokehold in a bathroom and multiple reports of bites.
Those are just some of the distressing attacks school staff have faced from their students, according to workplace violence reports obtained by Star Calgary from the city’s two major school boards: the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) and the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD).
The reports show 641 incidents have been reported in the last three school years. Of these incidents, 81 took place at CBE schools, with the remainder at the CCSD.
In the last CCSD school year, 84 incidents were described as purposeful injuries to staff caused by students, another 56 were a blow, hit or trip, and 12 others were classified as assault.
The CBE doesn’t have the same categorization in their reports, but they had 26 reports involving students punching, kicking or striking staff, 12 involving objects being thrown and nine biting incidents.
Reports at both boards were most often filed about elementary school students, with identifying information about the students redacted. They were submitted by people in various staff positions, including teachers, principals, educational assistants and lunch supervisors.
The incidents sometimes involved students briefly lashing out before being calmed down, but some incidents lasted longer.
A 2018 report of a Grade 4 student attacking an assistant principal shows the incident lasted nearly half an hour. Another incident saw school staff dealing with a violent Grade 3 student for 90 minutes.
Some reports even mentioned having to call police to the school to help staff members get the situation under control. Other reports detail the injuries staff incurred.
According to one report, a student kicked a principal in the shoulder enough times to cause a rotator cuff injury.
While the reports provide a sketch of the types of violent incidents that staff are facing, it’s hard to paint the full picture because of differences in reporting methods and discrepancies in data.
CBE spokesperson Megan Geyer said the board’s records show they were notified of 94 incidents in 2018-19 alone, compared to just 38 workplace violence forms received by Star Calgary for that school year.
Those nearly 100 incidents were reported either through workplace violence forms or through a separate online portal last year. But they only include submissions from teachers, leaving out incidents that involved other education staff members, which could raise the number of incidents at the CBE last year even further.
The CBE could not provide their own internal records for years prior to 2018-19. No one at the school board could explain the discrepancy.
What’s clear from the reports Star Calgary received is that the number of reports filed from both local school boards increased each year between 2016 and 2019. Schools and teachers’ unions have been pushing staff members to speak up more.
Bob Cocking, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association Local 38, said under-reporting is common for teachers when it comes to classroom violence.
Often, he said, there’s a stigma around reporting these incidents, and sometimes teachers blame themselves for not handling the situation better. They may not want to cause trouble for the children and their families, or they might feel discouraged by the amount of paperwork required to report an incident working under already busy schedules.
There is very little transparency between the Teacher and the Parent(s) which is why I could not find any listed injuries of children at school in Alberta when I searched online.
“Sometimes there’s little things that they wonder, like ‘Was it something that I could have prevented? Could I have dealt with it earlier so that it wasn’t an issue?’ ” Cocking said.
Joanne Pitman, the CBE’s superintendent of school improvement, said the school authority is aware that these incidents are often under-reported.
She said the board wants teachers to report more consistently, especially when the violent act is purposeful or causes an injury.
By making this type of statement, she is leading us to believe that the Teachers do not report all injuries.
They’re hoping to do this using an online reporting method for teachers introduced in 2017, and by sending more staff to schools to hear from teachers directly.
“Where we place specialized supports, and how it is we deploy them in a way that most supports our students and our staff is something we’re continually revisiting,” Pitman said, adding the board also wants to create effective prevention and crisis management plans, and specialized supports to avoid these incidents.
“Absolutely, as a board, we need correct information.”
These incidents can happen to teachers in any kind of classroom.
One incident with a Grade 2 student in Bridges — a program for students with social, emotional or behavioural difficulties — lasted more than three hours as the student punched, kicked, spit on and threatened staff members, eventually biting one teacher on the leg hard enough to leave a wound.
This is a problem that could get worse in Alberta with any further cuts or freezes to education funding, according to Eryn Dewald, executive director of Children’s Link, a non-profit dedicated to providing resources for families with children with special needs, who spoke to Star Calgary via email.
Any further cuts could lead to larger class sizes with growing student populations and diminished staff.
The average CBE class size is already growing this fall as the school board tightens its belt in an attempt to make up for a possible government funding freeze that could come in this fall’s provincial budget, making it harder for teachers to work with each student directly.
Dewald worries this will put more stress on teachers, students and families while gaps in special education supports grow.
She added she often hears from parents who are worried there already aren’t enough supports in their children’s classrooms and that teachers aren’t trained to provide what some students need.
Would these parents like to Home Educate instead then? Why doesn't the government increase the funding in Home Education and make this more of an option for them, and parent(s) with children like them?
“Schools must be equipped to address behavioural challenges ... Often the behaviour that teachers are seeing is really a lack of understanding of a developmental disability and what approaches or strategies will work best with that student,” Dewald said.
This issue would be well taken care of by the students' parent(s) who knows them inside and out, and knows which approaches and strategies work for them and which don't. Welcome to Home Education!
In the CBE alone, around 21,000 students have identified special needs, and according to the school board, they spend around $136 million each year to provide these students with the supports they need to eliminate systemic barriers. This includes things like mental health specialists, speech language pathologists or deaf and hard of hearing specialists.
Let's equalize on this funding and offer it to Home Educators that have children with identified special needs also.
The ATA’s Cocking echoed Dewald’s concern, adding that students with complex needs can lack coping skills at times and are often in classrooms with teachers who aren’t trained to work with their specific needs.
Who is the best for this job, the parent(s) of the students. Let's promote Home Education by providing more funding.
“The teachers aren’t special ed teachers. A lot of the generalists don’t have that special ed background or know how to better communicate with a child who has communication (issues), anxiety or even just behaviour problems,” Cocking said.
Stephani Clements, a special education teacher in Calgary, has had three students in her career who were at risk of violently acting out on a daily basis.
She remembers one incident where a student held the classroom door shut for five minutes, preventing her and her students from leaving, while he started acting threateningly. “That one really affected me,” Clements said. “I put myself between him and the other kids, which was scary. Even now just talking about it, it still makes me a bit upset because of the potential of what could have happened.”
Note: the teacher had remembered this incident because it clearly left a scar on her memory, but how about the other students that were in that room with her, who were also held hostage for a brief time? No child(ren) should have to go through this fear, especially at school where they should feel safe to learn and thrive. In Home Education this scenario would almost never happen because students focus on learning and are cared for by their parent(s) who are their primary caregivers that love them and can comfort them when they are starting to act out of hand.
Some also dispute teachers’ ability to use one tool they do have in these situations — seclusion rooms. Also known as timeout rooms or calming rooms, they’re sometimes used to restrain students with disabilities.
These rooms have become controversial in Alberta, leading to debate over whether they should be banned. In one case, the parents of a 12-year-old student with autism and developmental disabilities are suing the school district and the provincial government after their son was allegedly locked naked in a seclusion room in a Sherwood Park school and ended up covered in his own feces.
Did I just read that correctly? Locked naked in a seclusion room and covered in his own feces?! I sure wouldn't want this happening to my own children. Public Schools are poorly managed and even dangerous. Homeschooling is safe and can be very productive because Homeschoolers have the ability to skip grade levels and graduate at a younger age.
Parents and some education advocates have argued that using these rooms can cause emotional and physical trauma, and the NDP government announced it would ban their use as of September 1. But when the UCP took power after the spring election this year, they reversed that ban.
Cocking said he was happy to see the ban lifted before it could be implemented, so teachers can still use these rooms to respond to children who are threatening their classmates’ safety.
Students are threatening other students in Public Schools?! These students must find it so hard to learn and concentrate being under the pressure of wondering if they will be a victim of violence that day. Choose no bullying, Choose Home Education!
He said he supports the use of seclusion rooms, with the proper safeguards to keep the students in those rooms safe and monitored, after other methods have been tried first, and as long as parents give their approval for seclusion rooms to be used.
“When the seclusion room ban came into place, that took away a tool or a way of helping or supporting the student or the staff,” Cocking said.
Another effort to tackle classroom violence comes from the ATA, which has created a working group that is preparing a provincial report on this issue. They hope it will be ready by the end of the year.
In the group’s research, they also found an annual increase in the calls they take from CBE teachers about classroom violence. In fact, in 2018-19, their research shows they received more calls from CBE teachers than from the CCSD and both Edmonton public and catholic school boards combined.
Looking nationally, a 2018 study by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation found more than 70 per cent of teachers said they were seeing an increase in the rate and severity of violence in schools. According to the study, verbal and emotional violence is the most frequently reported type of violence, followed by physical violence. The study showed that students are the perpetrators of the violence in more than 90 per cent of reported incidents.
A 70% rate in the increase and severity of violence in schools?! Enough is enough, Home Education needs to be more of an option for Public School Students, who do not want to be apart of this violence in Public Schools anymore. How does Home Education become more of a choice for these students? By an increase in funding. The report also said these incidents are significantly under-reported to school administrators and police. Why?? Because the Teacher does not want to be held accountable if there was an injury to another child under his/her watch? Why such secrecy about injuries that occurred on school property?
Clements pointed out this isn’t necessarily a problem in every single classroom across Calgary, but as the rate of students lashing out against teachers grows, the main issue facing Calgary schools, she said, is to ensure school staff members are trained to know how to support students with different complex needs.
“I think that in every school, we have students who we want to help, but they’re just one of 34. And we are just not having enough time in a day or a small enough number of kids in the class to actually build those relationships and learn what they need,” Clements said.
Thank you Clements for ringing my bell loud and clear. More funding for Home Education equals more Home Educators in Alberta, which will help to cut down your classroom sizes, and allow for all students to have a finer education-whether it be public or home education.
Andrew Jeffrey is a reporter/photographer for Star Calgary. This article was taken from the link listed below: https://www.thestar.com/calgary/2019/10/05/biting-kicking-chokeholds-calgary-teachers-report-violence-in-classrooms-documents-show.html
The real-life events of which you have just read are alarming, especially the rise of violence in Public Schools, but do not be discouraged because there is a solution far better than the solutions mentioned in the article above (seclusion rooms).
The best solution is Home Education.
And therefore, the Alberta government should give more funding to Home Education because it is safe and more cost-effective. The more the Alberta government gives to Public Education, the more they waste the funding on almost anything other than education, i.e. seclusion rooms and SRO's/ Police intervention.
You can help advocate for more funding in Home Education by contacting the Minister of Education:
PLEASE CALL 780-427-5010 or FAX 780-427-5018 or EMAIL your concerns to Attn: Adriana Lagrange email@example.com
EXPLAIN YOUR OWN STRUGGLES WITH YOUR CHILD(REN) DUE TO THE LACK OF FUNDING AVAILABLE, OR OTHER FAMILIES YOU KNOW AND THEIR CHALLENGES TO HOMESCHOOL THEIR CHILDREN DUE TO THE LACK OF FUNDING AVAILABLE. SHE CANNOT CONTINUE TO STRIP FAMILIES OF THEIR RIGHT TO EDUCATE THEIR CHILDREN IN A PROPER AND SAFE FAMILY SETTING- THE HOME.
Please also sign my petition: http://chng.it/LbQn5BFFgw and pass it on.
Alberta lets see: MORE FUNDS FOR HOME EDUCATION !