SD43 elementary schools face violence, threats

Coquitlam district puts youth workers, other resources in high-needs schools to deal with student behaviour

School District 43 is seeing more cases of violence and threats to teachers and support workers, and it's providing more resources to high-stress schools to deal with incidents.

The district is also seeing an “incremental” increase in injuries resulting from child behaviour, according to a risk report produced for SD43 last week.

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And while the district won’t say — citing privacy reasons — how many incidents or workplace injury claims have been filed with WorkSafeBC, many of the issues occurred at the start of the last school year, officials revealed.

“We considered those factors in deploying youth workers and support workers,” superintendent Patricia Gartland told trustees at the June 11 board of education meeting.

Violence and threats aren’t new in schools, according to SD43 officials, but seems to be on the increase while ministry funding to support students with behaviour issues and other concerns has not kept up with the need. 

“This is concerning to us and it should be concerning to us. It should be concerning to all our community by raising the level of conversation around it, it’s a positive way to deal with the situation,” secretary treasurer Chris Nicolls told The Tri-City News. 

“What we're trying to do is make sure the Ministry of Education recognizes that is what’s happening in schools and the need to provide funding to support kids. And that means more staffing and more resources to make sure we keep them safe.”

To deal with the situation, the district placed youth workers in four elementary schools where there were more incidents; put more focus on health and safety; and provided mentoring support and training to assist teachers in dealing with difficult situations, according to the risk report.

Still, SD43 rated the issue as high in its summary of 29 risks the district is facing.

Other risks that were noted have to do with lack of funding for mental health resources or money for positions to support students with special academic or behavioural needs.

News that schools were struggling with threats and violence, especially at the elementary level, had some trustees concerned.

Board chair Barb Hobson, one of four Coquitlam trustees, said at last week's meeting that she wanted more specifics about what resources are needed to deal with the issue. She said she hoped more resources and training were helping the situation.

Still, finding out the exact number of injuries in schools is hard to ascertain.

Figures from WorkSafeBC show the number of injury claims from all B.C. schools has grown by 40%, from 1,382 in 2014 to 1,892 in 2018, suggesting schools are dealing with more workplace injuries. 

According to WorkSafeBC, elementary and secondary school education assistants make up most of the claims — 32.9% — followed by janitors, caretakers and building superintendents (19.6%), elementary school and kindergarten teachers (15.6%), and secondary school teachers (10.6%).

It’s uncertain whether the situation will change in the near future as funding for more resources, and finding more staff, is a new problem the province is dealing with.

On top of that, negotiations for B.C. public school teachers are ongoing and the contract about to expire June 30 with the possibility of no deal.

Class size and composition language in the contract, involving supports to students, is among the outstanding issues.

And while SD43 recently hired a mental health coordinator to help students, it's finding that staff also needs support dealling with issues.

The risk report also noted that employee stress with some parent engagement is increasing.

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