More than 300 students have been involved in violent incidents at the Toronto District School Board so far this academic year, a figure that is higher than prepandemic levels.
In a report on school safety that will be shared with trustees at a committee meeting on Wednesday, the TDSB, the country’s largest school board, said it has documented 323 students involved in violent incidents between September and April. This compares with 267 students involved in violent incidents in the 2018-2019 school year.
Safety and student behaviour, including at the TDSB, have made headlines this academic year after several serious incidents of youth violence in and around school buildings.
At the TDSB, officials say they have been working to address the root causes and taking additional steps to address safety, including allocating safety monitors and social workers at schools where concerns have been raised and working with community groups to provide after-school programs for students.
The report on school safety stated that there has been an increase in violent incidents among young people in the city.
“Schools are a reflection of the communities within which they exist, and as such there has also been an increase in violent incidents in TDSB schools,” according to the report.
School boards in Ontario report violent incidents annually to the Ministry of Education. The incidents include possession of a weapon, including a firearm or any object used as a weapon; physical assault requiring medical attention; sexual assault; robbery; extortion; and hate-motivated occurrences.
On Monday, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario released a survey of its members that showed 52 per cent of respondents said students attempted physical force against them this school year, and about two in five members were the victims of violent behaviour.
The union surveyed more than 76,000 members earlier this year on workplace violence. About 32 per cent of its members responded to the survey.
Further, 35 per cent of teachers and support staff said their classrooms were evacuated because of a violent incident this school year.
Karen Brown, ETFO’s president, said at a news conference on Monday that the results may shock the public, but her union has been hearing about the “pervasiveness of violence” in schools. She said that the public-education system is being underfunded by the province, and that “student needs are going unmet.”
“Increasingly, we’re seeing incidents of student behaviour in kindergarten to Grade 8 classrooms that raise safety concerns and serious challenges for us as educators,” Ms. Brown said.
Many respondents say there has been more violence in schools than in the past and the severity of incidents is worse.
ETFO and other teachers’ unions are in negotiations with the provincial government for a new contract. One of the items at the bargaining table is a call for more resources and staff in schools.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce told reporters on Monday that his government has increased funding for mental-health supports in schools, including psychologists, social workers and child and youth workers. He acknowledged that violent behaviour among students is affecting learning.
“I understand that the demands are rising. We share that concern,” Mr. Lecce said.
Official Opposition NDP Leader Marit Stiles said the government has cut funding for education and hasn’t recognized the issue of violence in schools despite repeated alarms about a lack of support staff.
“We have a crisis. It’s been going on for a while, and we have been raising the alarms. And if they just woke up today and realized that actually violence in our schools is a problem … they haven’t been listening,” Ms. Stiles said.
About 70 per cent of ETFO members said they took sick leave to recover from physical injuries because of a violent incident. A similar number of respondents said they went on sick leave because of the psychological or emotional turmoil caused by the violent incident.
With a report from Jeff Gray