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Becky Druhan, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development

UPDATED: Teachers lack resources to deal with school violence: report

By Jacob Moore Jun 11, 2024 | 9:57 AM

Teachers in Nova Scotia aren’t equipped to deal with rising school violence, according to a new report from the province’s auditor general.

Kim Adair said the government doesn’t have a province-wide strategy to deal with rising violent incidents, and its data collection is unreliable and inaccurate.

Teachers also lack the training to handle and report on violent incidents, and the province needs a new code of conduct, said Adair.

She said the education department “didn’t seem to be focusing on it as an important issue that needs to be addressed.”

An ongoing issue

School violence has increased by 60 per cent since 2017, a jump from about 17,000 reported incidents a year to 27,000, according to the report. Half of those incidents happened in the Halifax Regional Education Centre (HRCE).

Because of the inaccuracy of the province’s data, Adair said the 60 per cent increase in violence is “probably an understatement.”

Racist and discriminatory incidents also increased in the HRCE over the same time period, by 196 and 285 per cent, respectively.

More students are enrolling in schools, which could have an influence on increased violence, said Adair. But enrolment has only increased by nine per cent since 2017, while violent incidents have increased by at least 60 per cent, the report says.

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union also called on the province to do more to address school violence ahead of a strike vote.

Province missing data

Adair said some teachers don’t report violent incidents because they don’t feel like it makes any change.

The province was also relying on data from Occupational Health and Safety forms collected by the Regional Education Centres.

In the Halifax Regional Education Centre for example, staff can file incident reports through multiple places, including through Occupational Health and Safety, and through PowerSchool, an online education portal.

In 2022-23, there were 835 incidents, including things like falls and slips, filed as Occupational Health and Safety forms. However, nearly 3000 incidents were reported in PowerSchool, more than three times higher than the health and safety forms.

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Reporting in PowerSchool also doesn’t let staff identify if a student had special needs, was a visible minority, or the student’s gender and name. Reports don’t have options to show if staff or students were victims of violence.

This shows the department is missing much of the data necessary to understand the scope of school violence, said Adair.

Data shows more violent incidents happen at the elementary level, Adar said, but that could be because those incidents are physical, whereas incidents are more verbal between older students.

The province also doesn’t clearly define a violent incident.

Teachers lack resources

Some times teachers have to fill out the same incident form multiple times, either for PowerSchool the Occupational Health and Safety team, or for work injury processes.

She says that process has to be streamlined.

“I think if they look at [data collection], so that it’s captured once and only once, that will help,” she said.

Several schools didn’t have a workplace violence risk assessment and prevention plan for the 2022-2023 school year, the report says.

Work already underway, says minister

The province is working to address school violence, Education Minister Becky Druhan told reporters Tuesday.

The province is already working on a new school code of conduct, one of the auditor general’s recommendations.

Druhan didn’t outright agree that the government lacked focus on addressing this issue.

She said the government has “a significant focus on addressing violence in schools.”

“We’ve been doing this work for some time now,” said Druhan.