National Newswatch

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia teachers and other school staff faced violence or threats of violence about 1,800 times in the last school year, according to data provided by the Department of Education.

The province says about 631 of the province's 118,000 students were violent, made violent gestures or incited violence against adults, with 85 per cent occurring in elementary school and involving such things as kicking, throwing rocks or pushing.

The information was released after The Canadian Press reported on Thursday that there were more than 11,000 instances of physical violence in 2015-16 while students were on school grounds or at school events.

The definition of the physical violence provided by the province in a freedom of information request is "using force, gesturing, or inciting others to use force to injure a member of the school community."

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union has said schools have become increasingly violent and links the problem to a lack of resources in the classroom and a vague disciplinary system.

Grant Frost, the president of the Halifax local and a regular blogger on education, says many problems are to blame, from issues children are experiencing at home to a lack of guidance counsellors and therapists at school.

But he said the end result has grown increasingly difficult for educators to cope with.

"The fact this is happening at all is the issue ... It's a very sobering statistic," he said in an interview.

"There's no good day to go in and get punched by a student or hit by a student or bitten by a student. ...  We need the resources to help a student not do that."

The Education Department says the acts of violence against teachers decrease steadily as students grow older, which shows schools are successfully teaching children self-control in their early school years.

"This is a testament to the abilities of our teachers and school communities in teaching these vital social and emotional skills to children early in their school years," wrote spokeswoman Heather Fairbairn in an email.

The department said it doesn't track how often harm results from the incidents, saying in an email "we would have to review the details of each incident to determine if any of the reported incidents resulted in injuries."

School boards and the department have faced criticisms from education experts and consultants over their record-keeping on physical violence, with some saying the definition is too wide and the results of the violence need to be documented along with root causes.

Fairbairn says the province plans to survey teachers for their feedback on the usefulness of the information they're providing.

She also says the Commission on Inclusive Education will issue a report on June 30 and the province looks forward to its insights on school violence issues, among others.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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