The Greater Victoria Teachers Association (GVTA) is training school union reps to deal with violent incidents in classrooms.
GVTA president Jason Gammon said he has seen increasing incidents of student violence in the lower grades – behaviour such as hitting, kicking and biting – in the years since behavioural programs have shuttered.
“It’s not uncommon but it’s a daily occurrence in some schools,” he said. “They aren’t doing it necessarily on purpose, maybe they don’t have the right coping skills, maybe they have mental health issues, but at the same time, it’s unacceptable that teachers are hit, kicked, bit, spat on or sworn at.”
In December 2018, 13 violent classroom incidents were reported by teachers and 22 incidents were reported by education assistants (EAs) to GVTA. This, in a month with only three weeks of instructional time.
And Gammon said GVTA’s representatives on the district occupational health and safety committee “say that violence against teachers is under reported.”
… in school is both physical and psychological. We’re training our school union reps this week in the processes available to help respond to and prevent violence in schools. …
— Victoria Teachers (@gvta) February 17, 2019
Gammon said training for school union representatives will help them learn how to refer incidents and provide recommendations to teachers faced with violence.
He said the closure of behavioural programs integrated students into classrooms where there may not be enough – or the right kind of – resources. In the last two to five years, intensive behaviour intervention programs have ended in a number of schools including Victoria West Elementary, McKenzie Elementary, Braefoot Elementary and Cedar Hill Middle School.
“The issue with shutting these programs is that these students were enrolled in a ‘regular’ classroom, but proved through their actions that the ‘regular’ classroom didn’t meet their individual educational needs,” Gammon said. “These students aren’t just misbehaving, these students quite often acted out violently and needed much smaller adult (teacher and EA) to student ratios.”
Gammon said the teachers and EAs that worked in behaviour programs also had specialized training, something not all regular teachers have.
“A lot of times when kids act up, there is something going on there. And as a regular classroom teacher I don’t have that level of training to diagnose mental health issues and deal with kids that are that complex,” he said.
“We are training our reps more on how to declare unsafe work [and] make good recommendations.”
Additionally, the Victoria Police Department cut school liaison officers from Victoria schools last year after its funding requests were denied by Esquimalt council.
In December, Gammon wrote a letter to the Township of Esquimalt and the Victoria Police Department, saying the officers were missed.
“Already this school year there have been multiple incidents of police being called to our schools,” the letter read. “Often these calls are in response to students in crisis.”
Victoria Coward, board-certified behaviour analyst and director of Little Steps Therapy Services, says school requests for behavioural services have increased.
“We have been around since 2004 and in the early years of this business we were seldom invited into [school] meetings and into classrooms, and we are definitely seeing an increase in those invitations over the last few years.”
Coward said integration is important for students – but needs to come with adequate resources.
“Our ultimate goal is always to have those kids be able to participate fully in every aspect of society and have the opportunity to learn from their peers,” she said. “I do think if a child is struggling in a classroom setting and exhibiting some challenging behaviours that it does require a collaborative team approach.
“I think it comes down to what every single person who works in this industry is facing right now, which is, there’s limited funding.”
B.C.’s 2019 budget – released Tuesday – outlines $550 million towards public education over the next three years, but provides no details on funding for behavioural or special education specifically.