Survey reveals surge in school violence

'Pieces of their scalp ripped out, broken bones, chunks of skin bitten off, scratching, spitting—you name it,' says union head

Survey reveals surge in school violence

The results of a recent survey conducted by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF/FEESO) have brought to light a disturbing increase in violence within Ontario's public schools.

According to the survey, an overwhelming 75% of OSSTF/FEESO members report an increase in incidents of violence since they began working, with 31% having personally experienced physical injury. This alarming trend has prompted urgent calls for action from education professionals and policymakers alike.

"Every instance of violence in our schools represents a failure by the Ford government to provide a safe learning environment for students and a failure to support the caring professionals who are tasked with nurturing student growth and development," says Karen Littlewood, president of the OSSTF/FEESO.

She emphasized the severity of the situation, noting the violence is not just physical but also psychological. "People who've had pieces of their scalp ripped out, broken bones, chunks of skin bitten off, scratching, spitting—you name it. The psychological harm is just as severe, if not more so," she added.

The survey, which included responses from over 6,500 members working in public schools from kindergarten to grade 12, revealed violence is only getting worse. Among the most affected are women and those in direct support roles, such as education assistants and child and youth workers. The lack of resources and accountability has exacerbated these issues, with many education professionals considering leaving the profession due to the untenable working conditions.

Calls for legislative and policy changes

The survey results and the subsequent press release from OSSTF/FEESO have led to a strong call for amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act to make it more specific to the education sector. "We really need some sort of amendment or something that would be education sector specific," Littlewood asserted. "We have a really hard time first of all just telling our members that they need to report incidents when they happen."

In addition to legislative amendments, OSSTF/FEESO has proposed four other critical solutions to address the rising violence in Ontario schools:

  1. Emergency safe school funding: Allocate Planning Provision funding, currently at $1.39 billion, to create an Emergency Safe School Fund. This fund would bring in more qualified staff, such as professional student support personnel and education assistants.
  2. Stay and learn program: Create a dedicated tuition waiver to attract students into education programs for occupations experiencing shortages, similar to programs in healthcare and long-term care.
  3. Data transparency: Demand that the Ford government release data on serious student incident reports, risk assessments, and the Ministry of Labour's workplace violence inspection blitz conducted in early 2023.
  4. Safe school action table: Commit to the development of a Safe School Action Plan with a Community and Stakeholder Action Table that includes OSSTF/FEESO and other education unions.

The way forward

The pressing issue of school violence requires immediate and sustained action. "The only way to actually get support in place is to have documentation, and we either don't have time in education to fill out the paperwork or we're discouraged from it," Littlewood explains.

The message from OSSTF/FEESO is clear: without significant changes and investment, the safety of both students and education workers will continue to be at risk. "Behind every statistic is an education worker or teacher who has faced intimidation, threats, or physical harm while simply trying to do their job. It’s beyond time for the Ford government to take this growing crisis seriously," Littlewood exclaims.

As health and safety professionals, it is imperative to support these calls for action and advocate for a safer working environment for our educators. The well-being of our teachers and the future of our students depend on it.