Union calling on Ontario to hire support staff to address school violence

TORONTO — The Ontario government ought to hire more support staff to address a recent spate of violence in and around schools, a union representing education workers said on Friday.

The president of Ontario School Board Council of Unions at the Canadian Union of Public Employees said trained mental health workers and education assistants should be available on site in every school to help students who are struggling.

Laura Walton said principals and superintendents should also be adequately trained to respond to violence on school grounds.

"We need to ensure that there's more student support services," Laura Walton said. "We need to ensure that there's more mental health services."

Several high schools across Toronto and other cities in Ontario have seen violent incidents in recent months, including shootings and stabbings that have left students injured – and in some cases dead – with youths facing charges in several cases.

On Thursday, a school outreach worker was left with minor injures after a shooting at Toronto's East York Alternative Secondary School. Police said a gun was discharged towards the ground during a fight in the school's washroom and the worker was hit by a bullet that bounced.

Walton said she is concerned the issue of school violence will get worse in the coming weeks and months if immediate action is not taken.

"School boards are not equipped to do what we need to do," she said. "It's gonna require a full stakeholder conversation."

She said the government should meet under the provincial working group on health and safety, which includes the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Education, school boards, teachers and other education workers' unions to discuss the issue.

"There is a multi-stakeholder group that has been in existence for almost 10 years that is sitting dormant right now, because the ministry doesn't want to meet because bargaining is going on," Walton said.

"That group needs to be empowered to address these issues."

The Ontario government didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Toronto police data presented last month at a Toronto District School Board planning and priorities committee meeting shows 622 young people between the ages of 12 and 29 were victims of stabbings and 586 were accused of stabbings between January 2021 and November 2022.

The Toronto District School Board has said it will take additional steps to ensure safety at its schools by creating a student engagement and safety team at every high school and an audit team to work with schools to ensure safety policies and procedures are being followed.

That decision followed a rash of school violence including a fatal shooting outside a school on Oct. 31st and a stabbing inside another school in November that left a student with life-threatening injuries.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said in November the city will prioritize enhanced youth programming and mental-health initiatives to support students after meeting with representatives from the TDSB as well as police and city staff to discuss what he called troubling violence involving young people.

"We all agree that violence in schools is unacceptable and we must do everything we can to stop it," he said.

Schools outside of the Greater Toronto Area have also seen violence in recent months.

In London, Ont., a teenage girl was arrested in November after a stabbing at a local high school that sent a female victim to hospital with serious injuries.

Last month, three teenagers were charged with assault and a fourth was wanted by police after a stabbing at a high school in Oakville, Ont., that left three 15-year-olds injured -- two with apparent stab wounds and one with a bloodied nose.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2023.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press