As students returned Wednesday to a Halifax-area school where two staff members were stabbed this week, the head of the provincial teachers union called for a government task force to draft a new safety strategy for the province’s schools.
Ryan Lutes, president of the 9,500-member Nova Scotia Teachers Union, also called on the provincial Progressive Conservative government to reverse teacher staffing cuts imposed two years ago by the previous Liberal government.
“There’s been a significant concern from all teachers over the last number of years about rising violence in schools, and specifically from high school teachers in Halifax because of staffing cuts,” Lutes said in an interview Wednesday.
“The teachers union for a number of years has been advocating to the government to take a look at violence in our schools.”
On Tuesday, a day after the stabbings in the main office of Charles P. Allen High School, a 15-year-old student at the school was charged with two counts of attempted murder and nine other charges.
Police said the accused was also treated in hospital for stab wounds, but there was no indication of how he received those injuries. He is scheduled to attend a bail hearing on Thursday. The Youth Criminal Justice Act prohibits publication of his identity or any details that could identify him.
Halifax Regional Police also confirmed Tuesday the two victims – both staff members at the Bedford school – were listed in serious but stable condition in hospital.
Lutes said when he met with teachers at the school on Tuesday, he was told they were angry and frustrated with what they described as a lack of support from the school’s administration.
“The main message from them is that they have some significant safety concerns in their building,” said Lutes, who taught at Halifax West High School as recently as last year. “This incident has brought forward a lot of emotions and trauma.”
Though the Halifax Regional Centre for Education had planned to resume classes on Tuesday afternoon, the union leader said teachers weren’t ready to welcome students back until Wednesday.
“They had specific safety concerns that they believe were not being addressed by the system,” said Lutes, whose union represents teachers, school counsellors and specialists.
Lutes said he heard from teachers who said they feel unsafe because the school’s portable classrooms can’t be locked from the inside. As well, he was told the nearby community centre used for some classes is not linked to the school via a proper communications system. And he heard about the use of hall monitors from outside the school who simply don’t know the students.
“That was a major concern,” he said. “They have no pulse on what’s going on in their own building.”
While the particularly violent nature of the stabbings may be regarded as an isolated incident – a view shared by Nova Scotia’s education minister, the city’s police chief and the school authority – Lutes said lower-level, violent incidents have become all too common in the province’s schools.
He cited statistics from the province’s Education Department that show there were 13,776 reports of physical violence in schools for primary to Grade 12 during 2021-22. That’s up from 11,240 incidents in 2020-21.
“Those are not isolated,” he said. “Those are happening every day. This incident has highlighted that problem …. Our schools are not as safe as they were.”
Meanwhile, Halifax RCMP said officers seized a knife from a youth at Leslie Thomas Junior High in Lower Sackville, N.S., on Tuesday around 2:20 p.m. No one was injured, but the school north of Halifax was locked and students were told to stay inside.
A second youth was later arrested after police learned the pair had allegedly threatened a third youth while at a nearby strip mall earlier in the day. Both suspects are facing a charge of uttering threats and one of them also faces a charge of possession of a dangerous weapon.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2023.