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Nunavik school board says teachers are to blame for violence

“They were very authoritarian”

By JANE GEORGE

Pierre-Luc Bélisle, the teacher who complained about high levels of violence among students at Iguarsivik School and the lack of action by school administrators and the Kativik School Board, has left Puvirnituq.

Following a meeting between the school administrators, teachers and the education committee, parents decided to remove their children from Bélisle’s class.

The teachers’ union paid his way home, where he’ll remain on full salary until the end of the academic year, the KSB said in a written statement.

Bélise had told the Journal de Montréal and the Nunatsiaq News that little action had been taken after two students punched him in the stomach three weeks ago.

School administrators had already told Bélisle earlier this year to stop grabbing students by the arm to move them, says a 2,000-word written response from the KSB about teachers’ allegations of violence at Iguarsivik School, which the Nunatsiaq News received May 13.

“He persisted, and the students hit him. Because it was felt that he may have provoked the attack, punishment wasn’t given out immediately. He also took it upon himself to police the hallways, interfering with students who were not his responsibility,” the KSB says.

The May 8 Journal de Montréal story that first drew attention to violence at Iguarsivik contained “gross exaggerations” about the level and severity of violence there, the KSB says.

Bélisle shouldn’t have gone to the newspaper to complain, but use existing protocols to air his grievances, the school board says, noting the situation which developed is “unique to Puvirnituq” and does not reflect what goes on in the rest of Nunavik’s schools.

The KSB plans to hold a conference in the fall to address crime prevention and look at the best ways to deal with it in the schools.

“People blame institutions, but violence starts in the home. We see the consequence. We at the Kativik School Board are doing the best we can with the resources we have,” the KSB says.

The school board vowed to improve relations and barriers between Inuit, French and English teachers in Puvirnituq, by organizing potluck dinners and birthday parties.

The problems at the 260-student school in the community developed because some teachers tried to “take matters into their own hands” and tried to make their students “perfect,” the school board says.

This is what happened, the KSB states, pointing to a group of mostly first-year teachers, about 13 of the 34-member staff, who disagreed with how the school administration handled violence.

“They were very authoritarian; it was common for many of their students to be sent to the principal’s office on a daily basis. The administrators patiently explained that each case is dealt with individually, with the punishment taking into account the student’s home life, recent traumatic experiences, and the effect of a suspension on a student’s drop-out risk.

“This new group refused to listen to seasoned advice, and ganged up not only on the principal, but on the rest of the teachers who didn’t agree with them.”

The KSB says these rookie teachers didn’t ask for help: “the new teachers were described by their colleagues as unprofessional and disrespectful. There was no middle ground. It was their way, period. They said that 90 per cent of the problems were caused by poor class management.”

These teachers would punish a student who came to class tired.

“When the children come in late, be glad they made it,” says the KSB. “New teachers don’t know students’ personal stories. Many students come from dysfunctional homes. An inappropriate response can set off such a child very easily. An experienced teacher knows the signs to watch for.”

The KSB says the school principal, Judith Renaud, was satisfied with the unwavering support she received from parents, the local education committee, the community and the school board.

“She would not have received this support if she was at fault,” the KSB says.

As for the union’s allegations that the KSB rejected its proposal to mount a joint anti-violence campaign in the schools, the KSB dismissed this plam as being ill-thought-out and designed to bring back “memories of sorrow and shame to the families who were close to the people involved.”

“The school board is always open to realistic proposals,” the KSB says.

Among its efforts to improve school life, the KSB mentions a “code of life” for all schools, training is given in crisis intervention and anti-bullying, parenting courses and many extra-curricular activities.

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