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Sticks and stones break teachers’ bones

“Don’t underestimate the terror a six-year-old can cause with a big rock.”

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

JOHN THOMPSON

Violent students in Iqaluit have sent teachers to hospital this school year with broken hands, ugly bruises and other injuries.

These injuries are one reason why 12 teachers, joined by their union representative, filed into an Iqaluit District Education Authority meeting on Tuesday last week to express their disapproval of a draft discipline policy, which they say protects bullies.

Ron Woodman, the shop teacher at Inuksuk High, said he’s been attacked by students twice this year.

“I’ve had bruises on my arms as big as balloons,” Woodman said, describing how he shielded another student from an attack.

Under the proposed policy, students who attack and harm a teacher face a suspension for a minimum of five days. Severe cases may receive up to 20 days, and a recommendation to expel the student.

The policy, which has gone through at least eight drafts, came from the desire of IDEA members last year to help “kids at risk,” and the belief that suspensions don’t work.

Principals see the draft policy differently.

“My feeling is, at our school, it’s a document that protects bullies,” said Terry Young, principal of Inuksuk High. He said the minimum and maximum penalties are too restrictive and tie the hands of teachers and principals.

As for Woodman, he said if this policy were in place during the attack on him, “I would have been on stress leave, and I would have walked out of the school and not come back.”

Last spring DEA members defended the draft policy from criticism, but following DEA elections this fall, some new members appear to be on side with teachers.

Elayne Wyatt said she became involved because her 14-year-old daughter faced bullying at school.

“That’s why I’m here,” she said.

Meanwhile, two key proponents of the draft policy are no longer members: Katherine Trumper, the draft policy’s author, and Christa Kunuk, the former chair.

At the meeting, DEA members agreed they had no plans of adopting the draft policy until it received a more thorough review.

Principals from Iqaluit’s other schools described how their teachers also face abuse, from students, and from parents.

At Joamie Middle School this year, a nine-year-old student sent several teachers to hospital with injuries including a broken hand, said principal Eelee Higgins.

When the student was sent home, the mother became disruptive, Higgins said.

“The mother has been really verbally abusing me because I’m trying to help the student,” Higgins said. “I don’t know how to handle it. We need help in the school with that.”

Police and social workers offer little help, the meeting heard.

Only two days before the meeting, two students at Aqsarniit Middle School threw rocks at teachers, principal Darlene Nuqingaq said. When staff phoned police, they were asked if they wanted to press charges against the children. Police never did arrive, she said.

“We can’t be the only ones responsible for these kids at risk,” Nuqingaq said.

Likewise, Aqsarniit’s vice principal, Charlotte Borg, said Family and Social Services staff recently dismissed her concern that one student, who had drawn a picture of a girl holding a handgun to her head, was a suicide threat.

“They told me, there’s no handguns in Iqaluit,” Borg said. “I really felt that my professional judgment was questioned.”

Even Nakasuk Elementary, which is modelled as a “restitution school” that encourages children to work out problems through dialogue, rather than punishment, has had its share of injuries among teachers.

“Don’t underestimate the terror a six-year-old can cause with a big rock,” said principal Carol Horn.

That’s because teachers find themselves “standing between them and another kid, and they’re taking a rock for that kid,” Horn explained.

At times teachers phone the police, Horn said, but the RCMP don’t come. “There’s no support,” she said.

“When that happens, kids need to know there are consequences. It’s not all sweetness and light,” said Horn.

Teachers in Iqaluit aren’t alone. Jimmy Jacquard, president of the The Federation of Nunavut Teachers, has heard similar stories from Nunavut’s communities.

Prompted by concerns of violence directed at teachers, the FNT will launch a poster campaign this month, called “Make Learning Safe.”

Jacquard warned IDEA members that other DEAs around the territory look to Iqaluit for leadership, so “policies you adopt, there’s a good chance they’ll be adopted in other communities too.”

On the subject of Inuksuk High, Jacquard said he’s amazed by the school’s music programs, land trips and other positive activities.

But when he steps inside the building, sometimes he feels frightened.

“I’ve personally been scared in that school, and I know a lot of other people who were scared too,” Jacquard said. “There can be daily violence there.”

Sheila Levy, Inuksuk’s counsellor, stressed that staff try to reconcile both students involved in a fight, “so they can look each other in the face.” But “often, people aren’t ready to do this right away,” she said.

Teachers were consulted during the drafting of the policy, Levy said, but “not as much as they would have liked.”

Todd Janes, a teacher at Inuksuk High, said the poor turnout at parent-teacher nights shows there’s little student support where it’s needed the most – at home.

“I don’t see more than six parents for more than four high school classes,” he said.

“The violence won’t stop until the parents come.”

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