Protecting ourselves at school

Personal protective equipment and EAs

Protecting ourselves at school

He lunges and she instinctively ducks out of the path of his fist. He kicks her leg. She doesn’t say anything. He spits at her and screams profanities. She reaches up to wipe the spit away and he scratches her arm. Her ears are ringing.

It’s 9:00 a.m. and class has just begun. He’s the student she’s been assigned to work with this year in her role as an Educational Assistant (EA). She is wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and is following the student’s safety plan.

The end of her day will be filled with paperwork: a Use of Non-Violent Protocols form, an Antecedent Behavior Consequence Log, a Safety Plan Log form, a Violent Incident Report form (VIR) and a Student Incident form. Following a workplace injury protocol that includes a phone call to the HR person at the board, she will also inform her administration of the incident. Just another day in the life of an EA.

It took me 15 minutes to complete all the forms that would be required for just this one scenario. But I was just trying to gain a sense of what’s required of the EA after such an incident; I didn’t factor in the time it would take to speak with admin, call the board office or forward all the forms to their proper destinations. Did I mention most forms are time sensitive and must be completed in 24 hours?

Hitting, spitting, kicking, hair pulling, biting, scratching, profanities, death threats and exposure to feces and urine are just some of the incidents of workplace violence EAs experience on a daily basis.

On the front line
“Workplace violence is the number one issue for our staff,” says Tracey Marshall, ESSP/ECE Bargaining Unit President within OSSTF/FEESO District 18, Upper Grand. “We want to keep them safe, and as a union we are constantly developing policies and strategies to respond to our members’ needs. The vast majority of my day is focused on helping staff navigate violent incidents that stem directly from their work with students. Education workers need a clear message about what constitutes a violent incident, how they can report it and the supports available from their union and their employer.”

To gain a better understanding of how workplace violence affects the work and the lives of EAs, I spoke with six EAs from District 18 in December of 2015. We conducted the interviews in the new downtown library in Fergus, overlooking the Grand River. It was a beautiful setting that stood in stark contrast to the disturbing experiences of workplace violence described by the EAs. Almost all IMG_7177-olof the interviewees had worked over 10 years in the education field, and most had experienced some type of injury and lost time from work, directly as a result of their work with students who were violent.

Several of the EAs said they had been asked by administrators to downplay their injuries, and were often met with responses such as, “You’re not really that hurt, are you?” Others reported that they were encouraged to not fill out a Violent Incident Report form, the rationale being that there was no intent on the part of the student to harm the worker.

A number of EAs recalled that when they were first hired, their role was to help the whole class with accommodations and modifications. Now, however, an EA usually isn’t assigned unless a student displays violent behaviour. Consequently, the number of jobs is shrinking, but the workload within each job is greater and has become more dangerous.

Experiences with workplace violence affect more than just the EAs’ working lives. Their family life, their health and their general well-being are all impacted by violent incidents in the workplace. A family member said to EA Leanne Jolley, “I know why you love your work…but is your health worth it?”

Erinn Yetman received a severe concussion when she was attacked by a student to whom she was not assigned. Although she was already injured by the initial attack, she put herself at additional risk in order to ensure the safety of her own student. Her experience illustrates a common theme: EAs routinely risk their own safety to protect other staff, other students and, above all, to ensure the safety of their own students. And far too often, as in Yetman’s case, their commitment to the safety of those around them can have significant impacts on their lives outside of work. Yetman describes her experience with workplace violence as, “the worst experience of violence in any part of my life. No one talks about what happens after. The 11 months in bed, wearing earplugs, sunglasses, no noise or any light. It wasn’t just I who lived this, it was my whole family. The focus of my job, at the end of the day, is to not get hurt, after helping my students find their place in society.”

Sharon Blake, an EA who was, in her words, “elbowed into a concussion,” is very clear about the wide-ranging impact of that one incident. “It’s not just a 9–5 injury,” she says. “It’s my whole life.” Yet, in the same breath she echoes a sentiment that was common among the EAs I spoke to: “I love what I do, when there are enough of us to do our job properly.”

It became clear to me, in fact, that all of these women love what they do. They care deeply about their students and their students’ learning. They simply want to be safe while they’re doing their jobs.

Some staff have chosen to leave the secondary panel for jobs in the elementary panel, hoping they could escape more severe workplace violence incidents. Most feel that it hasn’t made a difference in terms of their safety at work. EAs have still been injured while working in the elementary panel, some so severely that several months off work were required for recovery.

The EAs I spoke to all use various forms of personal protective equipment, and I was interested to know how some of the equipment worked and what kind of injuries they were designed to protect.IMG_7210-ol

In general, PPE is worn when the threat of injury can’t be reduced by other means. Several staff noted that the equipment didn’t always work, as some of it is merely sports equipment that’s been repurposed for worker safety. Some of the PPE was made by the EAs themselves. Students adapt quickly and learn to pinch or bite them in areas where harder protective surfaces didn’t provide cover.

The EAs I spoke to pointed out that it’s not always easy to work when using personal protective equipment. PPE often impedes mobility, and it can be very hot during the summer. Some EAs also feel that students avoid them when they are fully dressed in PPE, intimidated by their resemblance to riot police. If employees don’t wear the PPE provided, however, they risk not being covered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

PPE for support workers in education has included, but is certainly not limited to, gloves, arm guards, and shin guards—all to protect from pinching, scratches, punches, kicks and biting. Chest protectors of different materials are used to protect workers from kicks, bites, punches, and scratches to the trunk of the body. Smocks protect from bodily fluids, and helmets are sometimes used to protect from punches, head butting and hair pulls. There are also facial masks to protect workers from being spat upon, punched in the face, scratched or bitten. The use of PPE is covered in the Ontario Health and Safety Act under the Health Care and Residential Facilities and Industries section, but not specifically for education workers.

More than half of the EAs I interviewed described situations in which they had not been informed that the student they were working with had a prior history of violent attacks, and it was only after an injury had occurred that safety protocols were put into place. Many staff feel that unless there is a threat of a work stoppage due to unsafe working conditions, their concerns about violent incidents in the workplace simply aren’t being heard. PPE is often issued reluctantly and only after many requests. It is often not properly fitted to specific staff, and it must be shared between staff members even when the working conditions are hot and the equipment is soaked in sweat, or when it has been contaminated by a student’s bodily fluids.

The EAs IMG_7243-olare trained in a variety of proactive prevention techniques. These include: BMS (Behaviour Management Systems), NVCI (Non-Violent Crisis Intervention), CPI (Crisis Prevention Institute) and UMAB (Understanding and Managing Aggressive Behaviour). EAs are expected to use these techniques in the midst of extremely stressful situations. But as EA Leanne Jolley puts it, “When you’ve been hit, you can’t think.”

Most of these programs use one person and two person holds to respond to a student whose behaviour has escalated to the point where an intervention by staff is needed. None of these holds, however, take into account a student who might be taller than one’s shoulder, or the potential lack of mobility that certain PPE would impose upon a worker. For those kinds of situations, staff would have to request training specific to their equipment and their student, in order to ensure an acceptable degree of workplace safety. Some staff complain about not receiving the required training in a timely manner, leaving them at higher risk for injury. This is especially true when a high-risk student registers partway during the year. Even with appropriate equipment and training, some violent incidents will require that back-up support staff be called from other areas of the school to assist, and this can result in dangerously inadequate response times to violent incidents.

data

Note: In British Columbia and Alberta, incidents of workplace violence are reported separately from workplace injury. In Ontario, they are not.

Comprehensive statistics on workplace injuries and hazards as a result of violent actions by students are difficult to find in Ontario.

What happens to all of the VIR forms filled out by support staff and teachers? Answers from the EAs I spoke with were varied. At least one reported that their administrator uses the d
ata to improve student safety by examining and reviewing it with staff. Most others report that the forms they complete seem to slip into some great abyss, never to be discussed with those who spend the time filling them out.

IMG_7247-olBiting, scratching, hair pulling, verbal threats and assaults, etc. are all grossly under-reported and rarely make it to a WSIB claim process. Other reasons for a lack of correct data collection would be “Worker Non-Claiming, Employer Under-Reporting, and Employer Induced Claim Suppression,” according to a brief issued by Institute for Work and Health. It seems clear that the available numbers don’t tell a whole truth.

“By The Numbers,” a statistical WSIB report, notes that working with food products or animals is potentially hazardous, but doesn’t address injuries thatIMG_7231-ol occur as a result of working with a violent student.

Officials in British Columbia (BC) seem to think that it is possible to identify working with violent students as a workplace hazard. The BC Worker’s Compensation Board put out a “Worksafe Bulletin” in 2013, listing 115 workers having lost time for having experienced violent incidents by students. That’s certainly not a comprehensive analysis, but it does lead one to wonder why Ontario is so far behind.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL) doesn’t use the same National Occupation Classification (NOC) system that the WSIB does. This affects data outcomes. It begs the question, how do we protect workers we don’t even categorize in the same way?

If the publication produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety entitled, School Workers: Health and Safety is an indication of the federal government’s commitment to improving safety for education workers, that commitment is woefully inadequate. The publication doesn’t include all job classes or address all hazards, and fails to align itself with current policy on positive discipline or special needs policies.

A scan of the most current WSIB projects on workplace hazard issues revealed that none are addressing hazards in the education field. Topics for projects include, “Safe Work Limits While Wearing Firefighting Protective Equipment.” What about education support staff concerns?IMG_7203-ol

We know that educational support workers who work with our most challenging student population, students with special needs, are at risk of experiencing workplace violence on a daily basis. It’s entirely unacceptable—especially in light of all the paperwork that follows a violent incident—that there almost no useful data or analysis to help us address the issue.

What’s next?
After speaking with the EAs from District 18, it was clear to me that none of these women would remain in their jobs—and continue to face, on a daily basis, the ever-present risk of a violent incident—if they were not enormously dedicated and thoroughly committed to the success of the students with whom they work. It’s a level of risk that most of us would never consent to in any aspect of our lives. It’s long overdue for the Government of Ontario and the school boards of the province to acknowledge and take seriously the hazards faced by educational support staff in Ontario’s schools.

What are we going to do to support our union brothers and sisters? Continue the conversation and share with us at @EducationForum on Twitter or at facebook.com/EducationForum.

Many EAs confirm that it isn’t just the initial incident that affects them, but additional challenges that come later. Educational assistants who’ve been injured at work and have required time away from the job are sometimes faced with return to work processes that are made difficult by unsupportive employers and by government red tape.

“I go back because each day is different. Everyone has the right to an education. If the student feels they’ve been successful, it’s been a good day.” Says EA Dianna Wallace.

“If you went to work every day and someone in the next cubicle spit at you, swore at you or kicked you, you would leave your job, or they would be fired. W
e don’t have that ability. It will be the same at the next school.”—Leanne Jolley

Most staff described their family as being upset and concerned they were being injured at work and that they were required to wear personal protective equipment to protect themselves while working with students.

More than one EA asked me, “I might be safe because I have all of this equipment on, but what about the other staff, the other students?”

“When violence happens to a person outside of their workplace, they are treated differently than when a violent incident happens to them at work. That needs to change. An assault at work leaves people with the same residual effects and damage as an assault that occurs on the street or in their home.”
—Tracey Marshall

About Vanessa Woodacre
Vanessa Woodacre is a member of District 14, Kawartha Pine Ridge, and is a teacher in a Section 23 classroom.

63 Comments on Protecting ourselves at school

  1. Luanne Bandiera // May 3, 2016 at 9:07 pm // Reply

    The reason I have retired early, after 29 years on the job. I did not start out to be abused in the workplace. I started out helping students with special needs. The job changed dramatically within the last 3 years. The children doing the hurting are not punished appropriately. If you assault someone you require a consequence. If children continue to be violet to students and staff members. They should be sent home. This is accepting violence in workplace as normal. It is not, if someone on the street assaulted me I would charge them. We are allowing this behaviour of children to get out of hand. Does someone have to be killed before the powers that be wake up.

  2. Fantastic article. Thank you so much for the information and a glimpse into the harsh realities of an EA position. There are so many layers to this issue/problem, and the roots of it are what needs to be addressed… the origin of the violent behaviour, and the legislation around workplace violence, specifically in the education system. Congratulations for speaking out. Let’s hope you’ve set a precedent.

    • Vanessa Woodacre // May 4, 2016 at 2:44 pm // Reply

      Great suggestions on some future article ideas-I’ll keep those in mind. The origins of violent behaviour is such a large topic and has so many directions it could go. Hard to limit an article to one topic, thats for sure!

    • This is so true. Majority of the time after we (EA’s) have dealt with a voilent incident we are required to continue with the rest of the day with the student as if nothing happened. We walk on egg shells and do everything we can to prevent a reoccurring crisis again. We all know that it may not be intent however there is great risk of injury to staff or students when the student in question is in crisis. We as staff and the other students need the time after an incident to recover and process what has occurred and properly debrief. It also gives everyone some relief after a stressful incident. We need a different approach on how we address what should happen directly after an crisis situation. We also don’t want to strengthen the behaviour if it is occurring because the student wants to go home so we need to understand the function of the behaviour. We know something needs to change to protect all.

  3. Kathy Bromhall // May 4, 2016 at 6:53 am // Reply

    I am an EA for The Grand Erie District School Board. Everything published in this article is true. In our room we do not wear protective equipment but it has been suggested we do so. Thanks so much for acknowledging the violence an EA encounters daily.

    • Vanessa Woodacre // May 4, 2016 at 2:53 pm // Reply

      It can sometimes be a difficult job in supporting our student’s to succeed in education, especially when dealing with violence on a daily basis.

      • Vanessa Woodacre // May 4, 2016 at 3:07 pm // Reply

        I meant to say, “I agree, it can sometimes be a difficult job in supporting our student’s to succeed in education, especially when dealing with violence on a daily basis.” sorry!

  4. Jane Holterby // May 4, 2016 at 8:48 am // Reply

    Great points in your article. I was curious though why an official from the Ministry of Labour was not contacted in addition to the EA’s from district 18 for a clearer definition of Workplace Violence. By no means am I implying that the injuries these dedicated workers are receiving are trivial. Many are extremely serious and focus is required to reduce or stop these incidents but I do have difficulty if someone is comparing these episodes to other workplaces. Teaching and healthcare workers have very different challenges compared to the typical Ontario worker. It may not be appropriate to compare them. Although I agree data and information need to be collected to improve the overall process to drive a safer workplace and this may be achieved by open lines of communication.

    • The defintion of workplace violence is clear under section 32 of the Act. In short… Verbal threats of physical harm, Attempts of physical harm and Actual physical harm. Employers are required by law to have a process for employees to report these events. Yes even verbal threats of arm are required by this section to be reported. Feel free to contact the MOL to verify this. Workplace violence incidents are higher in health care and education. It is not a matter of comparing this to other occupations. It is a matter of fighting to raise awareness and getting the government to realize and acknowedge that it is a huge problem. It is not part of the job or status quo for the workers who choose this line of work. The problem is the communication is going one way. The govt and school board leadership is not listening to the painful cries of the inured workers and the reported data is diminished or skewed. Its all about student rights. And that gets shoved down our throats. I get it. But what about the rights of education workers to come home mentally and physically in one piece?

      • I had a colleague – a peer -tell me one year that the student who was beating us and throwing objects and spitting on us all day had a right to an education. This person was angry that we were calling upon our union to advise us as to how we should handle this. You are so right.

        • How horrible!

          Yes, that child has a right to an education. The right to that education does not have to be in a location where that child is so escalated that he/she bites, kicks etc. If a child is escalated to that point, something is bloody well wrong. Inclusion is supposed to be the least restricted environment for the child. Well that child is practically (and perhaps literally) screaming at the top of his lungs that he/she is not in the proper environment for them to access that right to an education. Unfortunately, many are seeing inclusion as a cost saving measure to cut support, and then leave staff feeling guilty for not being able to do the impossible.

          • Maya a lot of silly staff behaviours can arise from being victimized by students and being afraid to stand up about it. This person was angry because she had dealt with this student for a year before and was envious that we were trying to do something about the situation. Petty jealousy. Instead of showing support.

          • Barbara Walker // January 8, 2017 at 9:02 am //

            Well said. Inclusion is good for many, but not for all. Many of our most challenging students are not being well served in our current educational system, for it is not designed with them in mind. Also, so many of our students with LD’s or other very significant learning problems are not receiving adequate help and support because our boards can only afford to hire support staff for students who are violent. Both groups of children are losing out.

  5. You definitely need to interview EAs from other school boards. People have been told “well maybe you should transfer to another school” because they don’t want to be constantly under the threat of another punch to the head. People who love their jobs and their students but who don’t want to be asked “well how could you have done something differently to have prevented this outburst” after being smashed by a chair.
    Being admonished for appropriately restraining a highly dangerous student…

    • Vanessa Woodacre // May 4, 2016 at 2:51 pm // Reply

      I did indeed “softly” interview other EA’s and found in other areas, as in D18, it had been suggested people transfer to another school. This was certainly the experience of one of the women I specifically interviewed but it was generally suggested to me, staff had been directed to move from the secondary panel to an elementary panel. Unfortunately, an article is limited by word count and not all possible outcomes or scenarios described by these workers or others I talked to could be included in the scope of this. I’m soo glad we have the comments section for that!!!! Thanks for your comment!

  6. Fantastic article, by the way!

  7. Thank you for bringing up this issue. I was an E.A. for 15 years and over that time, my duties went from supporting students with their school work in class to evacuating a grade four classroom due to chairs being thrown by the student I was supporting. I have heard many frustrating and scary stories from former coworkers.
    The effects of these incidents are harmful to the perpetrator, education staff and all students.
    Again, thank you for the well written article.

    • Vanessa Woodacre // May 4, 2016 at 2:56 pm // Reply

      It is the long term effects of how our classrooms have changed that exists in the great unknown. How these daily exposure to incidents of violence have affected the other students and the staff on a long term basis-when and how will we know this? How will we tell? Who is going to make this better? That is what I wonder.

  8. Whose dumb idea was this in the first place? Integrating dangerous students into public facilities requires guards, not just EAs. Would you integrate prison felons into public schools and let the EAs sort it out?

    • Precisely. We have highly violent students placed into a specialized ASD classroom. They terrify the other students (who mostly can’t speak) and take up much of the staff’s time. It’s a horrible situation. The experts peek in and make suggestions but they are not for the most part realistic or even doable given our staffing, lack of equipment and physical environment.

  9. Linda Jones // May 4, 2016 at 5:09 pm // Reply

    Great Article, colleges offer a diploma in Educational Support to prepare for for the EA role but it is a much riskier job than it once was. We have added significant content re personal safety and dealing with aggression but often difficult to anticipate.

  10. This is school’s dirty little secret. Everywhere. Elementary and secondary. If these incidents happened outside of the school it would be a criminal act and would not be tolerated. Will something be done when an EA or another student gets killed? Boards always worry about liability but this is by far the biggest liability they face and nothing is done. Unacceptable!!!

    • Candice, I could not agree with you more, not all these violent incidents are inflicted by students who’s disability makes the. Unintentionally thrash out. Now in the school system are youth who are angry and not identified as a risk to society until they get onto the street and commit the same injury on a bystander, then it is considered a criminal act. If we just treat this same behaviour the school system without making them accountable we are actually teaching them is is acceptable to hurt another person, adult or child. We are perpetuating the violence if these violent students are not given appropriate consequences for violent behaviour, and yes that will involve bringing the police into schools more often. A fifteen year old lad in Britain just convicted of two murders, he was a problem at school, but not enough was done to identify hm to the police, if it had perhaps these two people may still be alive today.

  11. We can deal for the most part with DD and autism issues; but not with psychotic violent behaviours.

  12. lori Obrien // May 4, 2016 at 7:45 pm // Reply

    It has become far to acceptable to be hit at school. I to am an EA with 27 years.When I first started I assisted in teaching by modifying what was being taught in class by the teachers. Now I spend 71/2 hours trying to stay away from hits kicks,spit,and verbal assaults.I choose not to wear PPE because I wear an insulin pump and am going threw menopause.This is from jks to grade 6. have had nose broke twice scratches, and many bites.Not sure what solution is but I am getting a little long in the tooth for this. No such thing as modified anymore all jobs are same.

  13. Elizabeth // May 4, 2016 at 10:38 pm // Reply

    Excellent article! I’ve been an EA for 17 years and the job is most certainly getting more difficult. I deal with violence from my student on a daily basis…biting, pinching and scratching. Administration does not deal with these issues effectively, the paperwork doesn’t seem to go anywhere, and you are made to ferl like its your fault. It’s very frustrating and if things don’t change for the better I often wonder if its worth it.

  14. These violent kids should be in a different school and not disrupting any of the class time of others. What the heck kind of future do they hope to have anyway? If they are that wild now, I can’t see how they can grow up and be productive members of society. They are going to be locked up by someone sooner or later. I wouldn’t waste resources integrating them into the normal system. Put them in a special area, monitor it heavily and try and teach them something useful.

  15. Very well written article !! We have been denied PPE by administration because the parents don’t want it being used as it will center their child out . When we are injured administration changes wording in our report to down play the incident. Another problem with our board is if we report incidences and need time off for our injuries they will move us schools. They don’t move us to protect us they move us to punish us . We are not moved to the next closest school it’s most times the farthest school which can be 30 km or more away . This adds extra stress as it affects your families before and after school daycare times which have been in place since the beginning of school . So most times with our board EA’s don’t report and come to school injured . I have been an EA for over 15 yrs I have boxes and boxes of manipulatives and corriculum based strategies that I use to use in the classroom . These are never used as my job is about protecting myself and other students . The last PA day Administration describe the placement of an EA as Custodial and Safety . Where is the Education ?? So sad to me special needs students that are not violent or a safety risk get no academic support .

    • PPE if needed is a right and requirement of the Act. Some of the other issues you raise violate the act as well. Contact your Union H&S Rep and ask them to bring these concerns to the Joint Committee or make a complaint with the Ministry of Labour- Health and safety Branch- Ask for an inspector to investigate

  16. Jackie Nez // May 5, 2016 at 10:55 am // Reply

    More times than I care to count, my daughter has mentally fought her way through the week and spent her weekends in bed recovering from various aches and stress so that she could be ready to face another week praying for a calm session at school. These EAs are “Everyday Heroes”.

  17. As a parent of two very dedicated ERW’s in the Dufferin Peel board, I am often reminded of how hard they work and how much they suffer daily. Yesterday my son who is a very fit 26 year old showed me his bruises on his chest from a student who bit him. My daughter in law can barely make it home because she is exhausted both physically and emotionally. I was a spec Ed teacher for many years and saw first hand the physical abuse that our ERW’s experience. My heart breaks at how little they are respected and appreciated by their school communities. My question is how would our most vulnerable cope without them. So grateful for the dedication and compassion and ask school communities to support and thank our classroom heroes.

  18. Interesting. I am a DECE (not an EA) in a Ontario school board and last year I had a child in my class who was extremely violent towards me and other students. I was bit, stabbed with scissors, scratched and evacuateing the classroom on a daily basis. I was expected to somehow take care of 31 children, do my regular ECE duties and somehow also provide this student with one on one support. I had no sort of training of equipment to protect myself and was completely unsupported by admin or other staff.

  19. Fantastic article and a great start at raising awareness. Consider follow-up articles on the violence experienced by teachers (I’m a teacher currently off with my second concussion from violence at work.) and on the trauma other students are being exposed to by witnessing violence in their schools on a daily basis. So much has been documented about the affects of witnessing domestic violence on children – this is a serious factor in elementary schools. Young children are witnessing the adults they care about and they look to for safety being hurt on the playground, in the hallways, in the classrooms.

  20. I have really been struggling with this exact topic lately. As an OT I am often in classrooms I am unfamiliar with, and not always given the information I need to prepare myself (and protect myself). This year I have had so much physical aggression directed at me (threatened with scissors, bitten, kicked, hit, punched, threatened with death), and it’s across all grades, all schools. My husband is a police officer and tells me I have experienced more violence in the workplace than he has this year. For me, the emotional and mental health aspects of dealing with these incidents so frequently have been taking their toll. I truly feel for the kids who are lashing out, because I don’t know what they are dealing with/going through, but something has to change. We can’t be punching bags while we try to educate. It isn’t good for anyone- not any of the educational staff, not the students witnessing it, and not the students doing it.

  21. Great article! In terms of the trauma that other children experience when observing this type of violence. I have a granddaughter who is graduating grade 8 this June, who is terrified to attend high school next year. Her fear is not the normal grade eight butterflies, but her fear is of these students. No matter how much her parents, who are both elementary teaches, or myself, an EA of almost twenty years try to reassure her that she will be safe, she remains fearful. How many other students are like her, afraid because of what they have seen or experienced, do not look forward to the next phase in their school life with eager anticipation and simple butterflies related to the change. How might this be affecting their future? My heart breaks for her and all of the children who while trying to learn have been faced with violence in their schools and likely their classrooms.

  22. I’m an inner city secondary teacher, we have lost much needed EA support for our MID and LD students that struggle academically yet don’t exhibit violent behaviour. Within the same school board my own son has lost his EA support for the same reason, he doesn’t display violent behaviour. However, academically he is in great need of support. EAs are so valuable within the classroom and for me it’s seen on both a professional and personal level. We shouldn’t be cutting EA support, instead we should be expanding EA support as many board’s beliefs are not to leave an child behind in terms of their learning. We also need to pay our EAs more as many EAs leave a full day of work to go to a second job in order to make ends meet.

  23. Thank you for exposing these realities to the greater public. I’m also an EA, elementary level, and have been injured several times by my student. I don’t think the answer lies in training and protective equipment, it needs to go deeper thant that. The education system needs to change to accomoadate these student. Because of full intergration policies those students are put in stressful situations (ex a busy classroom) which usualy become triggers to the behaviors. And that’s why we face violence on a regular basis, why other students and staff have to witness this violence that sadly has become normal in day to day school activities. I agree that the Ministries and the School Boards need to sit down and take a very serious look at what is happening in our schools.

  24. All of this is so true. I’m glad it’s getting more publicity. I am an EA and was on the JHSC as the H&S rep and then I was co-chair for 3 years. The Ministry of Labour was called a number of times and helped a bit but the bottom line was always –do a Work Refusal. And we did many times. That was the only way to get lots of attention to the problem of violence. Sometimes it helped to get the students in other placements that were more appropriate than a regular classroom. I always said why is this responsibility of getting students more help always on the shoulders of the least paid and lowest valued staff. No one ever had an answer for me. EAs and other education workers–make noise– do work refusals. It seems that that is the only way to get the attention of the higher ups. Call the Ministry of Labour–it is your right. If you are not told about the history of the student, the employer is breaking the law. Reprisals that are reported to the Ministry of Labour will be dealt with severely by the Ministry of Labour. Be strong people. fight back so that you can really help the students.

  25. Violence is not part of the job. Police officers who face violence everyday are allowed to use reasonable force. Why are EAs expected to take this from children. If a child is kicking, scratching and spitting, something is very, very wrong. That child needs immediate and intensive treatment, and it is unlikely to happen in the current school situation with its funding stretched thin enough to split. We have the right to refuse unsafe work, and this is unsafe work.

  26. Alison B. // May 7, 2016 at 10:12 pm // Reply

    I have been an EA for close to 30 years. Multiple bites, scratches and kicks/ over that time. Approximately 15 years ago my back was broken by an aggressive student that “3” EAs we’re dealing with. I have had three surgeries to get me out of my wheelchair and walking again. I returned to work after two years as I was told either that or my future claims would be denied if I was injured again. I am working in my job even though I will never be physically the same. WSIB and my school board give my ongoing struggles every year over this and try to minimize my ongoing physical disability. In this day EA support is only granted for extreme behaviour and medically needed students. Academics no longer matter. So many students are not getting what they require to be successful but neither are the EAs to stop injuries, mental stress and burnout. I am trained in numerous prevention and intervention techniques but they cannot always work.

  27. I have just returned to work from a 4 month absence due to mental health issues that have escalated during my time at the school I am currently at. Day to day I go from student to student, each one having his/her own needs, each one having different ways to cope, each one lashing out in different ways – of which I am supposed to know each child, each method of their lashing out, notice when there is something that will trigger them and try to prevent it, dealing with the crises when it arises, and then moving on to the next issue. All while not being totally supported by co-workers who have the authority to do something, but brush it off as another day in the work force and to move on to my next duty. Each day, I have at least 7-10 specific kids I work with along with other needs in the classroom that arise where I am the closest adult to the situation. I break up arguments, kids hitting each other throwing things, breaking school rules, they all need intervention. At the end of each day, I have nothing left to give my family – I’ve given it all to these children, who punch, run away, scream, bite. My mind and my body have been depleted every day. I really don’t know what to do right now – is it time to move on to another field – or persevere? And can I get the salary and benefits that I receive – without losing my mind.

  28. Ian Halman // May 15, 2016 at 7:17 pm // Reply

    I’ve been an Educational Assistant for 20 years. I have had two back surgeries as a result of a workplace injury dealing with an autistic individual leaving me permanently disabled with a numb left foot. I have had countless assaults committed against me. I have recently (two days ago) had my third finger on my left hand nearly severed and crushed by a door with no door stop while dealing with an autistic student. We face as much violence and danger as first responders. We also face disdain and contempt from those tasked with providing for our safety. Recognizing our conditions are not safe is the only thing that matters to us and is the only thing school boards are fighting to deny because it going to cost them a lot of money to standardize practices. We are the experts. They simply refuse to acknowledge it and spend money on more Superintendents bent on devaluing us instead. I for one am standing up and saying no more. I thank every EA or ECE that has ever worked in autism and especially those that commented here in an effort to better their situation or simply to vent their frustration in a therapeutic way. A therapeutic strategy used to be employed in my workplace to the benefit of the students but the OCDSB realized they could save money by denying it ever existed. They have slowly but surely removed all classroom supports in the form of speech therapists and the like and downloaded all the non existent therapies to EA’s then finally they deny we are doing it even though it is quite clear that IS the only thing we do. It finally caused me to run for a release position in my union on a platform of Health Safety and awareness. Wish me luck. I have ten years more to do and I want to make my employer recognize, officially, the dangers of my profession. They will no doubt discredit and assassinate my character at every possible turn.

  29. Now they are integrating CPS models collaborative problem solving in payments terms if it causes child anxiety they don’t have to do the work at all if they are calm they can sit or play all day if they get escalated evacuate classroom no hands on at all no matter how much abuse EA or teacher has to take or other children it’s absolutely ridiculous

  30. alison miles // August 2, 2016 at 11:15 am // Reply

    One frustrating aspect is that there are no boundaries to inclusion.
    When inclusion compromises the safety of other students and staff, why dont’ asministrators firmly take a stand to families of the violent student in question about an alternative placement or modified day? I have only known this happen occasionally.
    It seems to me families are often appeased and not aware of the severity and impact their insistence on inclusion for their child is having.
    This is just in problem I know, but set boundaries around inclusion could help with safety and staffing in some situations.

  31. clayton eaton Intigration Action for Inclusion // September 28, 2016 at 3:50 pm // Reply

    I would like to note that inclusion is not to blame. These assaults were taking place in section 23 classrooms. Not in any way to be confused with an inclusive classroom. Violent situations do occur in inclusive classrooms but they are more likely to occur in alternative placements. Inclusion is not the reason for the violence that takes place in the classroom. Yes EA’s and Teachers need to be protected in the work place but punishment and a violent response will not change the behaviour of the student. There are many effective strategies to help students with severe behavioral problems. I have taught students with severe behaviour (all of the ones mentioned in the article). Yes I have been bit hit and scratched but most of the time I can trace the behaviour back to something that I failed to do. I am a member and a strong supporter of OSSTF and agree that their role should be to protect the safety of their members but let’s not shift the blame to the students we serve or blame inclusion. The students can’t be blamed for their disabilities and inclusion can be an excuse that hides the real issue. The real issue is that the EA’s and Teachers employed to work with these students don’t need more protective clothing but the training and resources to teach the students they work with. Protective clothing will reduce the number of bruises but it won’t reduce the mental stress on the teachers and educational assistants or teach the students how to manage their behaviour. The students who have behavioural disabilities have a right under the charter to the accommodation they need to learn in our schools. This accommodation includes the properly trained staff and the level of staffing that is needed to teach them the skills they need to learn to live successfully in their community. We need to fight for the support the students need. It is important to remember that the students learning conditions are the teacher’s working conditions. Students having the supports they need to learn is the way to ensure that teachers will be protected.

  32. So I am an EA in northern Ontario and my school has more EAs then teachers because of the increase in violent students at our school. This article is nothing new it just shows where our education is heading. What people are missing is where are the parents of the students who are not special needs. Why is there not an outcry of support for their children’s education and safety? Every time I or a co worker clear a class and sometimes this is mulitple times a day it is a disruption to everyone’s education. i really believe these parents are not aware of the true reality of the classroom because if they knew there would be more protests. Special needs are not the only ones who have the right to an education. Every child has that right. More of these stories need to be written so the public is more aware of what the future of education is looking like!

  33. Exactly why I left the EA position early! When I started out as an EA, I actually was helping special needs students to improve and become functioning students. The system has failed, and I did not believe in it anymore, so therefore could not work in something I didn’t believe in. There are so many ways, if left alone, these kids would improve, instead they are forced to be accommodated and made to follow ‘new’ plans, that just cause them more stress and elevated anxiety and anger, and that’s what makes them lash out at the EA’s. Life of an EA today, is to figure out how not to get injured by someone that may be 6 years old, but take it if you do, and go on with the day. I know a lot of EA’s and not many of them are happy with their positions. I loved working with kids, but not under these circumstances. Even still after 4 years of being away from my EA position, it frustrates me to hear how much worse it is getting. Someone needs to fix the system, it is broken!!

  34. I sympathize greatly with the EA’s. The problem is systemic in education now where the parent and the child are elevated way above the rest of the schools needs and safety. You can’t fail a child that refuses to work, you can’t sent a child home that poses a risk to others, you can’t expect a parent to act like an adult and support the teacher or EA in response to their childs behaviour. The boards of education are political machines that only care about their bottom line and how they have to act in order to secure that from the ministry.

  35. After 23 years as an EA, I feel the biggest problem is the fact that we are always under staffed. We are constantly being told that there are no supply people to take our place when we are off and are expected to handle double or even triple the workload at times. The ‘Boards’ need to stop lining their pockets with so much cash that should be used to hire enough EAs to properly take care of these children without becoming injured and if ‘Each belongs’ as they so proudly put it, give EAs the mental, physical and monetary support that they deserve.

  36. Linda Auriemma // September 30, 2016 at 9:01 am // Reply

    I agree with Allison, re:inclusion. With inclusion, there also needs to be responsibility and accountability on the parts of the parents and students. We are not working in a clinical setting/hospital. We are working in schools, where EVERY child has the right to an education, and above all else—safety. Our resources are limited. Often, communication from parents is limited. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that as hard as we try, we are constantly at risk.

  37. I am an Educational Assistant for the HWDSB and I am physically and verbally assaulted on a daily basis. There are no consequences to the students actions and they are rarely ever sent home.

    I spend most days running around the school in negotiations with our behavioral students only to have to let them have what they want.

    Today, I had a student play on a computer ALL day long and when it was time to transition to an other room the student stated their terms and said that they would not be doing what I wanted them to do. I explained that since it was the teacher’s prep time that we could use an ipad on our gym stage while the rest of the kids participated. I went to get him the ipad and he decided that since it didn’t have access to the app store that he was going to run around the school barking other demands. To our principal, this was “normal” behavior.

    This week alone I have been punched in the stomach, spat at, had scissors thrown at me, nearly stabbed with scissors.

    I honestly don’t even know what my job description is anymore… I am starting to lose faith in our education system and truly believe that our Schools are in complete crisis. We put so much emphasis on including our students with special needs that we have put all of the students educations and safety at risk. Inclusion is a great concept in certain situations and with enough support. We are never given enough staffing to truly support the needs of the students.

    I have really started considering the trauma that some of the students must be facing in the classroom having to witness some of the brutalities that we are faced with. I entered this field with such love, but I’m fading very quickly.

    This job requires a sharp mind and a refreshed body, but unfortunately most of us have more than one job and in my case I have three. I am constantly working and getting sick from being so run down.

  38. I stumbled upon this forum and read a few articles about how “these students” should not be in regular class or school. Well, I work in one of “those places” they send them when they are violent or unsuccessful in other schools/programs. Most of these students are experiencing mental health issues. So while you do not have “that student” we are struggling to deal with 4 or 5 all in the same environment. You can all just use your imagination but trust me it far exceeds what most ppl can comprehend most days. We do not suspend or send home either so these students can hit, kick, spit, swear, threaten, and attack others with zero consequence. If we complain we should leave program, If scared we aren’t suitable for program, when something happens we did or are doing something wrong. Most of us will just keep doing it. For a paycheck, our benefits, our pension.

    • Linda Auriemma // October 14, 2016 at 9:57 pm // Reply

      I also work in “one of those places”. It can be gruelling after a day spent with 9 students all with high needs (behviourally, physically, mentally, and emotionally). Every day holds its own challenges. We encounter dangerous situations every single minute of every single day, without the resources to effectively deal with these people who we care about so much. The parents often don’t communicate, which is a huge problem. I am not scared of any parent or administrator. I go to work with the hope of helping the child—facing the adversity of our system. That is the sad truth. Val—you said it well…We are dealing with the possible roots of a world gone mad in the future and trying to prevent that. Our jobs are almost impossible to do, but we still keep trying—out of the love and compassion for others. It’s really too bad when we get injured or other kids suffer the consequences of some of these students’ behaviour. I may choose not to keep doing it…as may others.

  39. Jen Coventry // January 7, 2017 at 5:47 pm // Reply

    I am also an EA in the education system and have been for 12 years. I have been to elementary amd secondary schools and its all the same. These violent students are throughout our whole system and the rights of the employees and other students fall on deaf ears. I was in kindergarden for 2 years and one child in particular was extremely violent, not only did I have him to work with but another student who had severe autism and had their own working station that chnaged every ten minutes (caps program) , I was finding it vey challenging working with two students who were so opposite amd needed a full time EA individually. I was left to feel like it was me that was incapable of providing what these students needed. We had three parents that year go directly to our Superintendent to express how their children were now displaying levels of anxiety and did not wnat to go to school anymore because of this violent student. These parents were basically told if they didn’t like it to transfere to another school amd this particular violent student had a right to education. I left asking myself EDUCATION, what education have these childen been exposed to when we evacuate 2-3 times daily and so scared to come to school, their brains are not taking in any information. My team did a work refusal amd it got us no where. The system is a mess and it needs to be expressed to the public, EAs are constantly hurt and undergo mental stress daily all for a $34,000 salary.

  40. I too work as an EA. I have extensive amount of experience in children’s mental health in my past career. I think what’s lacking is training focused on de-escalation prior to the violence. It seems the focus on training is equipping us with how to respond to the crisis in the moment physically Many of my co workers with years of experience as educational assistants lack the skills to de-escalate the situation as it’s starting to escalate. It seems that the thought is to give us padded outfits and hope we don’t get hurt.

  41. Shelley Smith // January 7, 2017 at 9:16 pm // Reply

    Also important to remember is that EA’s are almost always the lowest paid of School Board employees. So you know that they are not in it for the money. We love what we do. We just need to have enough of us so that we are not always running around fighting fires and being assaulted.There are not many other professions where being assaulted on a daily basis is considered acceptable.I am now retired and I always loved my job. I was fortunate enough to have had support from our school administrators.

  42. My son is in highschool, he’s special needs requiring 24/7 care as he is non verbal and in a wheelchair. Over the years I have seen the board cut staff. There is one student in his class who is pretty violent and when my son started 3 years ago they had 2 staff with this student and now they technically don’t have anyone actually personally assigned to that student. Completely ridiculous. That puts all the staff and the rest of the students at risk for injury. You get people who sit at the board office deciding how many staff the class needs bit don’t know a damn thing about the kids and what happens on a family basis. I feel for the staff in particular because they are amazing human beings who don’t deserve to have to deal with the students without appropriate staff to assist when an outbursts happens. There needs to be more done to protect everyone involved. I love this article. Hopefully change will happen sooner then later.

  43. I am an EA with the Ottawa Catholic Board. I just want to say thank-you for research and writing this. Its like a day in the life of me. However horrible my days are getting i do find comfort that i am not the only one. Maybe with more research and attention the job changes may happen.

  44. Great article. Won’t change a damn thing! This is the same message that’s been going out for the last 5+ years and the government of Ontario will simply continue to smile, feed you some type of media spin on how they care about job safety but what it boils down to is….money! Simply put, the student that hits, kicks, bites, spits and so on is money in the governments wallet that they can spend on whatever they like, where as the EA is an expenditure and really should understand that getting hurt is “part of the job” (I’ve heard that come right out of a principals mouth). The real problem is not in the students or their families or even admin as they are all victims of the same system…..a system that allows these incidents to occur again and again without the proper consequence. As a child, think what would’ve happened if you had done anything of the sort to your Teacher or EA, chances are you would’ve gotten a punishment not soon forgotten and certainly would cause you to think twice before doing anything if the sort again. However, being in the classroom and seeing first hand how this “progressive” discipline is little more than a simple think session in your “safe space”…should be a warning to society that when these kids become adults, they will have NO idea as to what a real punishment is when they escalate their actions and this country, and the provinces that allow this to happen, will have nobody else to blame but themselves….now let that soak in while you’re in the safe space!

  45. I have been an SNA for 18 yrs. with TDSB…..also a certified BMS Trainer. I hear the stories,,,,I work the stories !!! Can be very frustrating…children have a “right” to an education, but no where does it say that the student must be in a school setting. And lest we forget,,,,,we too have “rights”. Do we continue to follow our boards protocol,,,,,or risk it and follow the social “legal protocol”? A very strong arguement. Thank you for sharing this article.

  46. It’s ridiculous that these violent children are permitted to abuse and beat up our children (and the EA’s). We are in the Halton Catholic Board and it is terrible. My daughter used to wake up singing, full of happiness and love, and was the sweetest child you can imagine. Once she went into Kindergarten, a boy there who was violent, started to beat her up and it changed her. My entire family was furious. We went as far as to take pictures of her abused body and send them to the Director of Education, Paula Dawson. She and the board, did NOTHING. I found out that the boy was never even suspended. We live in a society where the parents of the abusers can just dismiss things and allow their child to grow up without any consequence, and no fear of consequence. The system is completely broken. We need to bring back special education. We had that system in my school when I was growing up and it was a working system. Why did it ever change? Now there is so much money from our taxes going into hiring EA’s in every classroom for these violent children. They need to change it before more and more kids are abused. Adults need to protect children and punish the children who are abusing them! disgusting.

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