Parents at a west London elementary school have written to the top boss at the Thames Valley District School Board pleading for help after dozens of violent incidents have left some students scared to go to class.
In a rare move, the school council at W. Sherwood Fox, located in Westmount, wrote a letter to director of education Mark Fisher imploring him to act as students are “regularly experiencing violent and traumatic incidents that impact the entire school population.”
A package with 30 additional letters written by students and parents, and detailing how daily violence affects their psychological well-being, was hand delivered to the school board office on May 1, addressed to Fisher and two school board trustees.
Fisher has not acknowledged getting the package and has not responded to the concerns outlined within, said Cindy Burfoot, the chair of the school council.
“We’re seeing aggressive and violent incidents growing in intensity and in frequency,” Burfoot said. “It’s escalating to the point where we’re desperate to get help. It’s very bad and very scary. We’re seeing a lot of parents, myself included, scared to drop their kids off at school.”
In their letters, kids from Grades 1 to 8 detailed feeling anxiety and fear about school and frequent “Code Yellows”. Also called “hold and secure,” the protocols force students to remain in class until the threat of violence passes.
My kids come home and say things like, ‘Oh, today was a good day, there were only two lockdowns.’– Cindy Barfoot, W. Sherwood Fox school chair
The call for help from W. Sherwood Fox comes as the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario says three-quarters of its members report experiencing or witnessing violence against staff members.
The survey of union members commissioned earlier this year found that 77 per cent of teachers have personally been subjected to violence or seen it against another member.
The survey also found that 43 per cent of ETFO members have had a physical injury, illness or psychological injury or illness as a result of workplace violence against them this school year.
At W. Sherwood Fox, there have been instances of kids throwing chairs and knocking over tables, ripping student artwork off the walls and wielding a baseball bat in the hallway, Burfoot said. None of the students — those who experience violent episodes nor those who witness it — are being well served, she added.
“There’s a child in the hallway with a baseball bat, and you have a bunch of kids in Grade 1, 2 and 3 being told to sit and not look out the window at what is happening. These kids are seeing it. They’re locked in their classroom,” Burfoot said.
School council lists solutions
Sherwood Fox parents want the Thames Valley District School Board to provide counselling and mental health support for families affected by the ongoing violence and to send in specialized teams to assess what is going on in the school.
“We have amazing teachers and staff,” Burfoot said. “They’re outstanding and we see how much they’re going above and beyond to help all of the students, especially this year. Everyone has the right to a safe and quality education, and staff have the right to a safe learning environment.”
“These teams can come in and make recommendations for resources or tools that can be used to help those who need help” Burfoot said. “We’ve requested these teams but have been rejected.”
In her letter, Burfoot also outlined how kids often lose their outdoor recesses because they can’t leave their classes when a Code Yellow has been called. At Sherwood Fox, the student that’s prompted the code is brought into the foyer to calm down, making the gym and music rooms inaccessible.
“Because they’ve declared the main foyer as the de-escalation zone for students having a disregulated incident, it means that no one can enter the school, go to the office, access the music class or gym,” Burfoot said.
“You have children who are having a moment that they are not in full control of, and they’re on full display.”
Artwork and other displays of school pride that used to be in the foyer have been removed because they’ve been ruined in the past, she added.
No response from education director
“My kids come home and say things like, ‘Oh, today was a good day, there were only two lockdowns,'” Burfoot said. “My oldest (10-years-old) tells stories of a child coming into the classroom, starting to throw chairs, so the teacher tried to shuffle them to the corner of the classroom. It’s almost become the norm for them.”
Parents have asked to be told about Code Yellows so they can discuss with their kids, but administrators have replied that the information is not allowed to be shared, she added. Education assistants assigned to high-needs children often get pulled away to help deal with students having a meltdown, leaving other children without supervision, Burfoot said.
The school needs a better place for kids to de-escalate, as well as a sensory room where they can calm down, the school council says, suggesting a portable as an option.
“I thought we’d at least get acknowledgement that he [Fisher] got the letters. Some of the kids hand-wrote their letters,” Burford said
The two elected trustees whose wards include W. Sherwood Fox, Beth Mai and Sherri Moore, were expected to attend a school council meeting on Monday night. Mai and Moore did not return phone calls and emails from CBC News.
Fisher also did not respond to an interview request, and the Thames Valley District School Board did not make anyone else available for an interview.
London Morning7:40London parent describes violence at kids’ schools