Violence is up in Ontario schools and academics are down. What is going on in the public school system?

80% of elementary school teachers surveyed report violent occurrences in the classroom that create unsafe working conditions and hinder learning.

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A report published recently by the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (EFTO) made a shocking discovery. The survey showed that reports of violent occurrences are up 70% in Ontario elementary schools since 2017.

Nearly 25,000 of approximately 83,000 EFTO members — more than 75% of respondents — have experienced or witnessed violence in schools. That means that 77% of respondents reported seeing an alarming increase in violent occurrences in the classroom.

A portion of the report stated:

Four out of five members (80%) state there are more incidents of violence in schools since they started working in the Ontario public elementary school system, and two-thirds of members (66%) say the severity of violent incidents has increased. The vast majority of members (80%) agree that “violence is a growing problem” at their school. Almost three-quarters of members (72%) state the number of violent incidents has increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only does this violence create unsafe working conditions for teachers and school staff, but it negatively impacts the learning environment for all of the other students in the classroom.

Further, 83% of respondents reported that violence “interferes with classroom management” — an increase of 4% since 2017.

Underreporting of violent occurrences seems to be on the rise, too.

According to the report, “63% of ETFO members say that school administrators do not take the problem of violence in elementary classrooms as seriously as they should,” so it is unsurprising that only “41% of members made a formal written/online report.”

Only 36% of respondents said that their formal reports were followed-up or investigated — a decrease from 50% based on 2017 survey results. A miniscule percentage, only 8% of respondents, said that the follow-up actions to prevent further violent incidents were effective.

Not only has violence increased in the classroom by 70%, but administrative follow-up is at an all-time low, with respondents noting that existing strategies to stop repeat offences are ineffective.

The added stress placed on education workers throughout the COVID pandemic has further contributed to severe staffing shortages, further compounding the ability for these frontline workers to approach violent situations.

“A lot of teachers retired early or went on stress leave,” said Ontario educator Jay McCurdy at the National Citizen's Inquiry in Toronto on April 1.

McCurdy, who has 24 years of experience as a teacher, testified several weeks before this survey's results were published.

He spoke in depth about how the educational system was damaged by the extreme triage responsibilities put on the shoulders of teachers and school staff who were left to enforce public health measures despite having no medical training.

McCurdy states that it’s easy to identify that the 28 weeks of government-sanctioned school closures imposed on students, coupled with three years of forced social isolation due to COVID-related public health restrictions, negatively affected the capability of children in school today.

Ontario saw the harshest and longest school closures out of almost every developed nation globally, with zero scientific evidence to justify it. Premier Doug Ford seemed proud of his authoritarian iron fist.

Adding insult to injury, McCurdy also spoke in-depth about the role that masks played in perpetuating psychological trauma on students and hindering their ability to form healthy communication strategies — or to communicate at all.

research report from the American Institute of Economic Research published in April 2021 found that children’s “immune systems are still being developed and we are forcing lockdowns, school closures, and masking on a developing child and we have no prior experience on the subsequent outcomes pertaining to children’s development, health, and well-being.”

Yet as late as January of 2022, education unions rallied behind the continuation of harshly imposed pandemic related public health restrictions.

In this joint letter from education unions to Premier Ford (signed by the president of the EFTO, Karen Brown), they called for the government to “increase effective vaccination rates by publicly promoting the importance of vaccination for students,” to “add COVID-19 as a designated disease under the immunization of school pupils act,” for “improved guidelines to ensure masking compliance,” and “stricter screening and isolation requirements, robust testing and contact tracing regime, enforcement of vaccine passports and continued masking in all indoor spaces.”

Fast track to the publishing of the violence report, Brown says that “students would never choose these behaviours, this is symptomatic of a system where students are not getting the supports and resources they need – not for their education nor for their mental health.”

Brown appears completely unaware that the very policies and restrictions that she rallied behind played a role in the school environment being felt today and the detrimental effect on children’s mental health.

In the end, it’s children and the teachers tasked with trying to teach who are left struggling.

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  • By Tamara Ugolini


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