Auditor general examines violence in Nova Scotia schools

Nova Scotia's auditor general is looking into violence in public schools and efforts to keep students and staff safe. (CBC - image credit)
Nova Scotia's auditor general is looking into violence in public schools and efforts to keep students and staff safe. (CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia's auditor general is preparing a report on preventing and addressing violence in the public school system.

The work is listed on the reports-in-progress section of the office's website. A release date for the audit is to be determined.

"The audit will investigate incidents of violence in schools and examine how the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and the Regional Centres for Education and Conseil scolaire acadien provincial are maintaining the safety of their students and educators," Auditor General Kim Adair said in an interview Monday.

"We're always keeping an eye on topics that we think would be of interest, significance and have impact."

Teachers union welcomes audit

Nova Scotia Teachers' Union president Ryan Lutes said he is encouraged that the auditor general is delving into the issue.

"Our teachers on the ground have been saying for a number of years that violence in our classrooms and schools is on the increase," he said in an interview.

Lutes said teachers and the union have called on successive governments to make changes and he's hoping that Adair's report produces recommendations the current government acts upon.

"What we don't want to see is another report that says that we have an issue and then nothing gets done about it or the changes don't get implemented in the way they should. Everyone — I think all stakeholders — want our schools and classrooms to be as safe as they can and right now I don't think that's the case."

Lutes said the union is part of a school safety committee created by the Education Department. The group also includes representatives from the Public School Administrators Association of Nova Scotia

Previous incidents

The work by Adair's team comes on the heels of several high-profile incidents in schools, including one last year where a student and two staff members were injured in a stabbing at Charles P. Allen High School in Bedford.

The student, who was 15 at the time, is scheduled to go to trial in March on 11 charges, including two of attempted murder. Lawyers for the teenager are seeking a judicial stay of proceedings in the matter.

In October, Education Minister Becky Druhan instructed staff in her department to review the student code of conduct to make sure it supported teachers and other school staff when they needed to address incidents.

Code of conduct review

Druhan's directive followed an access to information request released by the Nova Scotia NDP caucus that showed the number of incidents of physical violence in schools during the 2022-23 school year was the highest it had been in six years.

According to those documents, 77 per cent of incidents were in classes up to Grade 6, where "students are learning about appropriate interpersonal interactions, self-regulation and other important social emotional skills."

A spokesperson for the Education Department said the code of conduct review is continuing, along with the work of the safety committee. Staff in schools will have the opportunity to provide input for the review, according to a letter Druhan sent in December, which her department shared with CBC.

Druhan said in the letter that efforts are also being made to increase reporting and data collection about incidents to provide the more accurate picture.

"We are also addressing barriers that may discourage reporting, ensuring that we have a just culture that supports prompt reporting and action. Again, your input is invaluable, and we will be reaching out with more information on how to participate and detailed guidance on next steps."

Adair said her staff started work on the audit before the subject made headlines during the fall sitting of the legislature.