Auditor General reveals seven-year surge in school violence, up from 17,000 to 26,000 incidents

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Auditor General’s Report Highlights Rising Violence in Nova Scotia Public Schools

A recent report from the Office of the Auditor General has highlighted the escalating issue of violence in Nova Scotia public schools, prompting reactions from the provincial government, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU), and the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party (NDP).

Auditor General’s Findings

The Auditor General’s report reveals a 60% increase in reported incidents of school violence over the past seven years, rising from 17,000 to 26,000 incidents, with half occurring in the Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE). The report underscores the severe and lasting consequences of school violence on children’s mental health, well-being, and education, noting that learning and health outcomes are significantly lower for affected students.

The audit identified significant weaknesses in current policies and a lack of cohesive strategies to address the rising violence. “Training and prevention have not kept pace with the rising number of violent incidents in public schools, resulting in educators who feel unprepared to deal with it,” said Auditor General Kim Adair. The report calls for a province-wide strategy and emphasizes the role of parents and guardians in ensuring safe learning environments.

Adair highlighted the unreliability of school violence data, which hampers the Department of Education’s understanding of the issue’s full extent. The audit’s recommendations include updating the Provincial School Code of Conduct policy and adopting an integrated strategy to address school violence. “It’s as much an Occupational Health and Safety issue for educators as it is a commitment to improve the future of the province,” Adair stated.

Provincial Response

The provincial government emphasized its commitment to addressing and preventing violence in schools. In a statement, the government assured students, families, and school staff that school safety is a priority. “Everyone deserves to feel safe, and nowhere is a feeling of safety and belonging more important than in our schools,” said the statement. The government outlined several measures underway, including updating the Provincial School Code of Conduct Policy, improving incident data collection processes, and developing a new student behaviour strategy focused on social-emotional learning.

The government highlighted that the Department of Education is working urgently on these initiatives, which align closely with the recommendations from the Auditor General. The statement also stressed the importance of community involvement in keeping violence out of schools. “I am committed to providing regular updates on our work to prevent and address violence in schools as we work together to build a system where everyone feels safe and supported,” the statement concluded.

NSTU’s Stand

NSTU President Ryan Lutes responded to the Auditor General’s report by expressing validation for the concerns raised by the union over the past two years. “The NSTU is prepared to work with the Province along with communities and parents and guardians to develop and implement a strategy that ensures all schools are safe,” Lutes stated. The NSTU has long argued that incidents of school violence are underreported and that a provincial strategy is necessary to address the problem effectively.

The NSTU’s survey conducted in the Spring of 2023 revealed that over 55 percent of teachers and specialists have been victims of violence or threats at work, with 87 percent believing that violence has worsened in the past five years. Lutes thanked the Auditor General for prioritizing consultations with teachers and specialists, stating, “This report can have a transformative impact on our public education system if properly implemented.”

Lutes outlined the NSTU’s recommendations, including clear reporting requirements for all incidents of school violence, adequate human resources to address diverse student needs, and province-wide Occupational Health and Safety training. He emphasized, “It’s time we put in place a plan that ensures that every student and their teachers can go to school each day feeling safe and supported.”

NDP’s Call to Action

The Nova Scotia NDP has called for urgent action from the Houston government in response to the Auditor General’s report. NDP Education spokesperson Suzy Hansen highlighted the alarming statistics from the report, noting that incidents of school violence have increased by 60 percent, and incidents of racist behaviour have tripled over the past seven years. “There is no more time to wait,” Hansen said, criticizing the government’s slow response in ensuring school safety.

NDP Leader Claudia Chender also criticized the government’s lack of transparency, particularly regarding the review of a violent incident at Charles P. Allen High School. “The government refusing to release the CPA report is yet another example of them keeping things from the public and making important decisions that impact our children in the dark,” Chender stated. The NDP is urging the government to seek solutions to prevent school violence and provide support to communities across the province.

The full Auditor General’s report can be found here.

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