CBC News investigates school violence with look at regional numbers

CBC Investigates has been taking a closer look at the safety of our schools.The CBC surveyed four thousand students between the ages of 14 and 21 about violence in schools .  Half were still in school with the rest over eighteen were reflecting on their school years. The survey was conducted by Mission Research for CBC news with 40% of respondents in Ontario.

FOI documents show number of violent incidents reported at Rainbow and Sudbury Catholic District Schools

How common is violence and bullying in school? CBC News commissioned a survey of more than 4,000 young people to find out. (CBC)

This story is part of our series "School Violence" a CBC News investigation into assaults between kids at school.

CBC Investigates has been taking a closer look at the safety of our schools.

The CBC surveyed four thousand students between the ages of 14 and 21 about violence in schools . 

Half were still in school with the rest over eighteen were reflecting on their school years.

The survey was conducted by Mission Research for CBC news with 40% of respondents in Ontario.

It was prompted by the absence of reliable national statistics and a culture of under-reporting

Some key findings of the survey: 35% of students say they were physically assaulted (slapped/kicked/bitten) at least once in elementary/middle school, and one in four experienced sexual harassment or assault before going into grade 7.

45% say they did not report the incidents they experienced.

The findings derived from a total of 4,065 online surveys completed by young Canadians aged 14 to 21, between August 26 and September 6, 2019. A corresponding probability sample of this size would yield a margin of error of +/- 1.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. 

The investigation set out to find answers through Freedom of Information requests and discovered a patchwork of reporting requirements across Canada.

School boards across Ontario reported more than 2,100 violent incidents for the school year 2017-2018.

That's one violent incident for every 1,000 students enrolled in public schools.

In Sudbury, two parents have come forward to describe bullying and violence their children have witnessed and experienced.

The mother of two elementary/middle school students in Sudbury says the violence started at the beginning of the year.

CBC has chosen not to name her to protect her children from being further targeted

This mother says her two children witnessed a choking incident on a school bus in the first week of school..

A CBC News survey asked more than 4,000 young Canadians to describe their experiences with violence on school grounds. Forty percent of respondents were from Ontario. (CBC)

Since then, she says her son has been physically and verbally bullied and the target of some filthy and disturbing language from both boys and girls on a daily basis..

She says he has even talked about having suicidal feelings.

"I see the frustration in my son after two months," she says. "I would hate to see him turn into a violent person but I can see how that happens, how a child is beat down every day, and they feel that the only way they can get through the day is to repeat that behaviour."

She says he's getting some mental health support at school but is worried it's not enough.

The mother of another Sudbury student, this one in high school, says not enough is  being done to prevent violence.

Again, CBC is not naming her to protect the identity of her child.

But she says her daughter has been dealing with bullying and threats over social media since last year

She describes it as insults about clothing, and teasing, and criticism that her daughter is not sexually active

This fall, she says an incident on a school bus with a group of girls escalated and led to a physical attack where her daughter ended up with a black eye and a gash on her head 

Now, her daughter is getting access to a social worker, but her mother wonders why it took so long

"To get my daughter involved with him, this altercation had to happen, so even though my daughter went to communicate with them (the school) last year about having issues with other kids in the school, they didn't direct her to him. It took this altercation for them to say, okay you can work with the social worker now."

This mother also checked with the board to see if the school had reported the incident as required by law. She says a week after the incident, the board had not yet been notified, so she reported it. 

When asked about reporting this kind of incident, Rainbow School Board spokesperson Nicole Charette says she can't talk about individual cases due to privacy issues.

What can be determined, is that according to a document obtained through Freedom of Information, the Rainbow School Board reported 22 violent incidents to the Ministry of Education from the fall of 2011 to the spring of 2018 .

In similar documents, the Sudbury District Catholic School Board (SDCSB) reported 57 violent  incidents over the same time period.

Charette says these would be incidents as defined by the Ministry of Education under Policy/Program Memorandum No. 120 and includes sexual assault, physical assault causing harm needing treatment, robbery and possessing a weapon.

Schools do record all kinds of incidents including those that fall outside that policy

CBC requested information about suspensions and expulsions under the Freedom of Information Act.

Those documents show hundreds of incidents over the past eight years at both boards that led to suspensions, and very occasionally, expulsions.

As an example, in a single line from one of the documents, it can be seen that in the school year, 2017-2018, there were 42 incidents reported at Lo-Ellen Park School that led to 29 students being suspended and fifteen reports to police. 

Cross-referencing that with data about violent incidents, the Rainbow Board reported none at that school in that time frame.

Schools and Boards outline Codes of Conduct

While some may question why incidents involving police may not be reported to the ministry, a spokesperson for the Rainbow District School Board says reporting depends on the definition of the violence.

Nicole Charette says the incidents may not have met the definition of violence as described  for reporting under the provincial policy, but they may still have contravened the board's Code of Conduct.

Activities leading to suspension under the Code of Conduct include possessing alcohol and drugs, vandalism, bullying, use of improper language, academic dishonesty and inappropriate use of technology.

The SDCSB has a similar Code in place.

No one from the Rainbow Board wanted to comment further to Rainbow School Board Education Director Norm Blaseg's comments from a couple of weeks ago when he learned of the CBC survey.

He mentioned then that ten social workers had been hired in five years to deal with the root of social problems that can lead to violence.

Schools hire support staff to manage issues at root of violence

Both the Rainbow and Sudbury District Catholic School Board say violence is not tolerated in schools or in the community and everyone is entitled to a safe learning environment. 

The  SDCSB says it's hired a roster of support staff including a Student Support and Inclusion Consultant, a Board Psychologist, two social workers and mental health support workers among many others..

Rossella Bagnato is the Superintendent of Education.

"We have worked very hard this year, not just this year, but the last several years to put a spotlight on how to prevent bullying and one of the ways is to provide a safe place for students  to report, and also do they understand the different between bullying and conflict."

Bagnato says violence has been decreasing over the past three years. 


As for what works and what doesn't to decrease school violence, a retired psychology professor from Laurentian University, Dr. Brian Bigelow, says peer-on-peer violence is hard for adults to crack.

"The world of peer relationships is impenetrable by the world of adults. That is a problem for all of us, because it's a developmental reality. But when it comes to crime and bullying and murders and drug abuse and all that stuff we don't want, then it makes it all the more difficult, almost impossible for us to enter that, if you like, peer castle, and do anything about it."

Bigelow compares the situation in schools to the novel by British author William Golding, Lord of the Flies.

Bigelow says social media and smart phones have actually increased the severity of bullying.

He says approaches such as restorative justice where all parties involved work toward a solution show promising results.


If you are a young person and are struggling with a problem big or small, please call the Kid's Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. They are always available, 24/7/365.


About the Author

Kate Rutherford


Kate Rutherford is a CBC newsreader and reporter in Sudbury. She reaches across northern Ontario to connect with people and their stories. She has worked as a journalist in Saint John, N.B and calls Halifax, N.S. home.


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