Is progressive discipline at Ontario schools working? This Grade 8 teacher says no
London teacher says school violence has increased as students face fewer repercussions
It's been 15 years since Ontario moved from a zero tolerance to bullying to "progressive discipline," but one London teacher says it's not working as elementary schools are facing an increase in violent incidents by students.
The Grade 8 teacher, who's with the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB), blamed a discipline policy that is unclear and confusing, and paves the way for students to reoffend.
"There is zero accountability," said Tom, whose real name is being withheld by CBC News as he fears possible consequences.
"The kids know that they can do what they want and there will be very, very few repercussions."
Tom said students are often violent, disruptive and disrespectful to their teachers and peers.
"We see a tremendous lack of respect toward educators. Kids can say whatever they want."
We have moved from one pendulum of zero tolerance to now one of almost complete latitude.- Craig Smith, Thames Valley local president, ETFO
According to numbers provided to CBC News by the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), in March, teachers and education assistants reported 427 violent incidents across the TVDSB, which covers Elgin, Middlesex and Oxford Counties and the City of London.
Students were out of the classroom for one week during this period for March break. The breakdown is as follows:
Violent incident type and frequency in March, 2022 at Thames Valley District School Board:
- Contact - 329
- Contact with/from an object or person: 7
- Exposure: 2
- Other: 28
- Overexertion/ repetition: 8
- Slip/trip/fall: 45
"There is no real consequence for students if their behaviour isn't what we normally expect their behaviour to be," said Thames Valley ETFO president Craig Smith. "We've kind of left it to schools and school administrators to deal with these issues."
Under Premier Kathleen Wynne, the province dropped its zero-tolerance approach to bullying in 2007 after it became clear suspensions had soared and unfairly affected certain groups of students. The government adopted a policy of progressive discipline, and since then, Doug Ford's Conservative government has bolstered that approach.
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What is progressive discipline?
According to the government's website, progressive discipline allows principals to "determine appropriate consequences and/or supports to help students improve their behaviour, while taking into account their individual circumstances."
Consequences can include an assignment, a detention and, in some cases, a suspension or expulsion.
In 2020, Ford's government announced principals could no longer use their own discretion to suspend the youngest students, up to Grade 3. Only serious offences would be met with mandatory suspensions.
The policy of progressive discipline is flat out not working. It's doing our children a massive disservice because that's not what the world is like.- Tom, Grade 8 teacher with Thames Valley District School Board
"We have moved from one pendulum of zero tolerance to now one of almost complete latitude," said Smith, who acknowledged the previous policy disproportionately affected certain groups of students.
"I think what has happened is that the rather nuanced message from the government has really been communicated out to the system as, 'You cannot suspend anyone.'"
The result, said Smith, is violence has become normalized in schools. Tom agrees.
"The policy of progressive discipline is flat out not working. It's doing our children a massive disservice because that's not what the world is like."
He also said teachers are burning out. "We are on the precipice of seeing massive numbers of stress-related illness."
Reporting violent incident cumbersome
The tool that teachers and education assistants use to report a violent incident is onerous and can deter teachers from following through, said Smith.
"This is one of the few districts in the province that doesn't have a simple and comprehensive reporting mechanism," he said.
Most other boards have an online reporting tool, but in an email to CBC News, the TVDSB confirmed it so far does not have such a tool and requires staff to fill out an electronic PDF.
The board is currently piloting a new online system in a number of schools and hopes to launch it system-wide this fall.