Is violence in the classroom on the ministry's radar?

Today's Classroom: Under the Microscope part 3

The Ontario government says it's committed to ensuring schools are safe, but it's not collecting crucial information.

When it comes to protocols on dealing with a student displaying disruptive, aggressive, or violent tendencies it's up to school boards, individually, to create those.

There are no consistent standards across the province.

If a child needs to be removed from class for any period of time, the Ministry of Education doesn't collect any data to help track how often that happens, why it happened in the first place, or the circumstances surrounding the exclusion. "The ministry is not collecting this data, at this point in time, so I want to ensure there is a process in place for the ministry to collect and track that data to ensure there are consistent standards across all schools and all boards across the province," explains Education Minister Mitzie Hunter. "This is something we are looking at now and working to towards that." There is not a firm deadline when the process of collecting the information may begin.

Exclusions are cited in Ontario's Education Act, as follows:

In Part X of the Education Act, clause 265(1)(m) permits a principal to "refuse to admit" to the school or to a class someone whose presence in the school would be "detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of the pupils". This provision is frequently referred to as the "exclusion provision". Exclusion is not to be used as a form of discipline. If a principal does decide that it is necessary to exclude a student from the school, he or she is expected to notify the student's parents of the exclusion as soon as possible in the circumstances, and to inform them of their right to appeal under clause 265(1)(m).

School boards are expected to regularly refine and strengthen their policies and protocols, according to Hunter. "Any incident of violence or aggression in our schools in unacceptable. I know how hard our teachers, our education workers are working on behalf of our students to deliver the best education as possible. When an incident of violence occurs, that is not acceptable. We have to work together to ensure that we strengthen that environment and ensure that everyone...when they come into a school, they leave as they came."

What role does the Ministry of Education play in all of this? "We certainly support the work of our local school boards, we expect that protocols are in place, we provide the working group environment for the Health and Safety Committee that is working to strengthen a culture of health a safety mindedness across schools and in our workplaces for everyone to come together (school boards, teachers, federations, and education workers) and, of course, ensuring that there is funding and supports in place."

When asked if funding for special education and addressing behavioural challenges would be committed in the next provincial budget, Hunter refused to say. "When you look at the funding for what we are investing in special education needs, that funding has actually increased by 70 per cent since 2003. So, we're investing $2.7 billion in special education needs." Over the past three years, 900 additional education assistants have also been hired by school boards.

Hunter notes that mandatory content on supporting students with special needs has now been included in the enhanced four-semester teacher education program. "We've also designated one-half of a P.A. Day for elementary teachers, just this past year, for health and safety training and for continuous learning through P.A. days."

She says the province wants to do more. "We're working with all of our education partners in doing just that because we are taking this very seriously and making it a priority for our schools."

Overall, Hunter describes Ontario schools as "safe" and says students are "happy."

It's estimated that upwards of 210,000 children in Ontario display disruptive behaviour in the classroom.

Students become bullies, aggressive or violent.

A program created over 30 years ago is slowly making its way into the school system but it's taking a lot of time and funding is always an issue.

SNAP - an acronym for "Stop, Now, and Plan" changes the thought process in a child's brain to go from a "fight or flight" mentality to adopting a balanced approach to problem-solving. Neuroscience studies prove it works within 13 weeks.

SNAP program director, Dr. Leena Augimeri sees schools lining up for training. In Toronto, alone, 85 schools are on a wait list. "We can actually train a school to use the SNAP strategy universally. We could do it school by school or we could do it by board. It's about $300 a teacher, but that teacher could then train a trainer."

Of the hundreds of thousands of children in this province with behavioural problems, Augimeri says five to 15 per cent will display a tendency to become destructive or violent.