Teachers' union calls for action to address classroom violence

Experiencing or witnessing violence on the job is the reality for many elementary school teachers, according to their union.

'We're talking about a range of violent actions like throwing things, hitting, spitting, biting, threatening'

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario says 70 per cent of its members have experienced or witnessed violence on the job. (Shutterstock/Syda Productions)
A new survey of elementary school teachers shows 70 percent have experienced violence in the classroom. The numbers are highest for kindergarten teachers and early childhood educators. Barb Blasutti is the representative of the Elementary Teacher's Federation of Ontario for the Rainbow District School Board. She spoke to us about the survey and the level of violence teachers are experiencing 9:18

Experiencing or witnessing violence on the job is the reality for many elementary school teachers, according to their union.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario says, across the province, 70 per cent of its members have either personally experienced violence or witnessed it on the job. The union surveyed its members last fall.

"The rates for kindergarten teachers and our designated early childhood educators is even higher" Barb Blasutti, the ETFO representative for the Rainbow Board in Sudbury.

"We're talking about a range of violent actions such as throwing things, hitting you, spitting on you, biting, kicking, punching [and] threatening."

Barb Blasutti is the ETFO representative for the Rainbow Board in Sudbury. (Hilary Duff/CBC)

Blasutti says there's a number of reasons why violence is occurring in classrooms.

"We have a lot of students in our system with mental health issues and who don't have the skills to manage," she said.

"They're being integrated into the regular classrooms. That's not necessarily a bad thing … it's just the integration is coming without support for these students."

Pregnant teacher 'terrified'

Blasutti says violence in the classroom creates a scary situation for teachers and students. She says she recently spoke with a Sudbury based teacher who is pregnant.

"She has a high risk pregnancy and she's just been informed that she's getting a violent student integrated into her classroom," she said.

"She's terrified for the life of her own baby."

Blasutti says she's also heard of teachers having to empty their classrooms to keep their students safe from another violent student.

"That's a huge deal when you think about it," she said.

"When you have to disrupt the learning and you have to withdraw and shift 20 little bodies out of a room to keep them safe."

Funding model not working

Blasutti says additional educational assistants and social workers would help.

She says the problem started when Mike Harris was premier and made cuts to education. Blasutti says the Liberals have re-invested money back into education, but says most of that money has gone to new programs such as full-day kindergarten.

"The current funding for special education is not based on any actual needs of our students," she said.

"Boards are really falling behind in providing really important supports to students with special needs."

With files from Jan Lakes