Joel Ceausu – The Suburban LJI Reporter
The headlines are shocking: guns, stabbings, lockdowns, bomb threats, fights, bullying, teachers assaulted. What’s happening in and around Quebec schools is alarming to many, including two Liberal MNAs asking the National Assembly to act.
Education critic Marwah Rizqy and Public Security critic Jennifer Maccarone asked the Culture and Education Committee to adopt an initiative mandate on violence in and around schools, after querying 72 school boards and service centres, comparing violence – verbal and physical – pre- and post-pandemic.
The sole Montreal-area school board responding with data was Sir Wilfrid Laurier, covering Laval, the Lanaudières and Laurentians, reporting a whopping 1,933 incidents related to physical or verbal violence in 2021-2022, compared to 1,062 incidents in 2018-2019: an 82% increase. Lester B. Pearson did not respond by press time, and the English Montreal School Board said it holds no such information or statistics. In Premier François Legault’s riding of Assomption, the Centre de services scolaire des Affluents reported 1,596 cases of physical violence in 2021-2022; up 187% over 2018-2019.
“It’s important to discuss this with no bill attached,” Westmount MNA Maccarone told The Suburban. “A mandate is a tool to advance policy and give input. We should be hearing recommendations from people on the ground.”
Montreal Teachers Association president Lori Newton says violence in schools is nothing new. “We’re not talking strictly about inner-city schools either,” she told The Suburban. “And it begins with four and five-year-olds lashing out.” She says EMSB teachers and other students are routinely hit in Montreal. “Many cases involve special needs kids, and we simply don’t have enough resources to support them, so they’re lashing out physically. Often the reason is simply a shortage of support workers.”
“I can’t tell you how many teachers are going home with concussions,” she said, while boards and schools are reluctant to suspend students “because we have a duty to educate.” Minor incidents are often written off. “In 2021-2022 we had a student murdered on the steps of a school, and a teacher stabbed at JFK; those were thankfully not part of an overall trend.” But even if not fatal or critical, “violence against teachers and students is ongoing.”
Maccarone insists boards and service centres can’t go it alone. “The government has a responsibility. Wouldn’t it be great to hear what’s going on from directors-general, unions and staff?... We have parents pulling their kids out of school. This is what it has become.”
Newton suggests the tally may be under-reported as children “see these kinds of things daily and it becomes part of what they consider normal, so not all report it at school or to their parents.”
She says the government required anti-bullying and anti-violence policies increased teacher workloads, and each board has its own reporting mechanism. “Administrations and teachers often just run to put out one fire after another,” she says. “We don’t have enough trained adults in schools to meet the needs.”
An east-end secondary teacher told The Suburban, she’s been “knocked around plenty” breaking up fights. “Do you know how many elbows and shoves I’ve received over the years?” She calls for help “and it comes if administrators are not hiding in their offices at lunchtime, when much of this happens and comes back inside.” She’s told “F&k off and die” regularly and had students mime assault through the window. “I stop class, file a report and it goes nowhere. Sometimes the kid comes right back as if nothing happened.”
At a Laval high school which until recently had a part-time police officer stationed on-site, a violent altercation led to a student tracked by police with guns drawn in adjacent woods last June, and a student flashed a firearm on a school bus. One teacher said she is seeing “a lot of homophobic harassment this year. Possibly because kids are beginning to feel comfortable expressing who they are, and there’s a backlash,” noticing it particularly with students entering Secondary 4. “Maybe it’s a lack of exposure, I don’t know. But it’s disturbing.”
Maccarone says anti-bullying and anti-violence policies, with organizations having their own reporting standards, are insufficient. “There’s a trend of kids encouraging others to commit suicide: where does that fall?... Maybe we need new resources, codes, programs? Better collaboration with police? This is a nonpartisan issue, but whatever we’re doing now is not working.”
A status report is a step towards concrete solutions, she says. “If you can measure it, you can manage it.”
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