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STF raising issues of violence in the classroom

Teachers’ union wants violence in the classroom addressed in collective bargaining agreement.
Samantha Becotte, President, Sask. Teachers’ Federation, spoke to reporters at the legislature last fall following the Throne Speech.

SASKATOON – Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation is raising heightened concerns this week about violence in the classroom as an issue in their ongoing labour dispute with the province. 

In a news release Wednesday the union shared stories of teachers who have experienced violence in the classroom. Their news release pointed to the experience of one teacher named Shelby, who was attacked by a student in what was described as an elevated emotional state while passing through the hallway during recess. Shelby's injuries included a severe concussion, broken nose and multiple bruises.

“I do not blame the student for what happened,” Shelby said . “I blame the system and the lack of government support that continues to let students fall through the cracks in the Saskatchewan education system. Violence in schools is an increasing issue and compromises the safety of all staff and students in the building.”

“I thank Shelby for coming forward today to share her experience. Her bravery and advocacy are a gift to the teaching profession and the teachers of Saskatchewan,” said Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation President Samantha Becotte in a news release. 

“Violent incidents like Shelby experienced are preventable. They are a symptom of underfunding and a clear sign that there is not enough support for students or teachers. Too many students need support that they simply can’t access because the provincial budget does not provide the required funding. I encourage parents and caregivers to ask their child how often they need to leave their classroom to allow another student space to calm down.”

STF’s news release also pointed to experiences of other teachers, including one referred to as Roman (not his real name), who suffered a broken jaw after being attacked by a student in the hallway while working as a substitute teacher at a high school.

Another teacher named Mary spoke on students who were dysregulated, who would throw furniture and charge at her and headbutt her and other staff. 

STF pointed to a survey of Saskatchewan teachers from a year ago, in which 35 percent of respondents reported experiencing violence in their working environment in the last five years, up from 29 percent in 2021.

As for efforts to address classroom violence, STF has taken issue with the Saskatchewan School Boards Association having proposed a committee to address the issue, “regretfully but predictably outside the bargaining process" according to STF's statement.

The STF has argued this would be another committee without accountability. According to their news release, the teachers' proposal is for the collective bargaining agreement to include measures to reduce and eliminate violence in classrooms and schools, including creation of a confidential provincial reporting mechanism.

“This is a dire situation and it is unacceptable for everyone. As a result of government decisions, students are being let down by the education system, and in some cases the health system, because they do not have the resources, tools and supports they need. Safe learning environments and safe working environments should not be too much to ask.”

STF has resumed job action as of Friday with rotating strikes and removal of noon hour supervision. The union has declared an impasse and no talks are scheduled. Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill has previously stated that his instructions to the Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee have been to be ready for talks every day at 9 a.m. in the morning.

On Wednesday Cockrill posted the following on the X platform: "Our team is at the table ready to bargain. The teachers’ union won’t come to the table and has already said there will be more job action when classes resume next week. Teachers and students should be in the classroom. The teachers’ union should be at the bargaining table."

Cockrill also shared a post from Kelvington-Wadena MLA Hugh Nerlien who stated the following: "The government has moved on a variety of concerns raised by the teachers’ union. They asked for workplace safety enhancements.  We have offered that. Teachers and students should be in classroom."

This afternoon the education ministry issued the following statement:

"Our negotiators are at the bargaining table today, ready to bargain. The Government Trustee Bargaining Committee (GTBC) is currently at the bargaining table in Regina, awaiting the return of the teachers' union. Another invitation was extended this morning, which has not been responded to by the union.

"The government has moved on a number of items the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) asked for, including workplace safety which is one of many areas the GTBC is prepared to discuss at the table as part of its renewed mandate.

"Outside of bargaining, the government has proposed an agreement with the STF to annualize the $53.1 million in additional funding for class size and complexity.

"As the employer, school divisions have the responsibility to follow all Occupational Health & Safety requirements to provide a safe work environment and have plans and processes in place to support student and staff safety. Additionally, government amended The Saskatchewan Employment Act last year, which will further protect employees, like teachers, from violence in the workplace.

"Teachers and students should be in the classroom, and the teachers’ union should be at the bargaining table."