April 17, 2023

Nova Scotia’s 10.6% School Violence Rate Has Nothing to Do with Dodgeball

On March 21, 2023, a fifteen-year-old student at CP Allen High School in Bedford, Nova Scotia allegedly stabbed two staff members.  The next morning, Nova Scotia Minister of Education, the Honourable Becky Druhan appeared on CBC Radio’s Information Morning to answer questions from host Portia Clark about the incident. That interview was a benchmark in the Minister’s overall response to school violence across the province. And while it should have opened doors for intense media and political probing, it seems to have been a hot minute, that has since passed. 

This post will review parts of that interview and attempt to once again shine a light into dark corners the Nova Scotia Department of Education appears dreadfully afraid to venture.  

Note: we used audio transcription software called Descript and cleaned up the wording for readability. 

Portia Clark: “Is it the first ever attack on school staff in the province that’s involved a weapon that you know of?” 

Minister: “Yeah. So you know the reality is that our schools are elements of our community. We don’t live in bubbles and neither are our schools bubbles. But I can say that school safety is our utmost priority. Incidents like this are incredibly rare. But our schools do prepare for them. And so I can say that this is very much a focus to make sure that we’re ready in the event that these incidents do happen.” 

Portia Clark: “And, and when you say rare, do you know whether it’s the first time that this has happened or it’s one of a few incidents? 

Minister: “I’m not aware of any other incidents in which something like this has happened.” 

It’s a very simple question that had to be reiterated and a lot of words in response to say the equivalent of “I don’t know.” That’s what it boils down into: “not aware.” We find this hard to believe given the fact that it’s been reported years ago that educators are wearing Kevlar protection in Nova Scotia schools. We would imagine it’s quite simple to find out by reviewing the data. Unfortunately, getting details about incidents is a near-impossible task due to privacy concerns or the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development claiming certain data simply isn’t available in FOIPOP responses. We have data to the contrary and have had no problem publishing said data in recent history. In fact, our most recent post cross-referencing crime geolocation data with school addresses was largely validated by Halifax Regional Police in a recent CBC article.  

Portia Clark: “Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education have put out press releases in recent months, claiming that education workers face the highest rates of workplace violence in the province. Is violence against educators on the rise in Nova Scotia?” 

Minister: “Yeah. So we know that overall, violence in schools has remained steady over the last number of years. But having said that, I really want to emphasize, you know, there is always a need to improve the safety experience of our students and our staff. And safety is something that we always need to work on and to improve. And so that is something that there’s a focus on at a regional level. It’s also something that there’s a focus on at a department level, but I, but I do want to say that today our focus is very much on supporting the C.P. Allen community, families and staff in the recovery from this really traumatic and unusual event.” 

Portia Clark: “And when you say remains steady Minister, what’s the data around that rate of violence in schools in Nova Scotia?” 

Minister: “Yeah, so again, um, it’s remained steady at approximately like 5%. The numbers have remained fairly consistent, but those numbers don’t tell the full story. Um, many, many instances of reported incidents actually are nothing like the one that was experienced yesterday at C.P. Allen, and are instead things like children in elementary school arguing over who’s got the next turn in dodgeball and getting into a pushing match. Um, so there’s a lot of information within the data that can help us make improvements in safety. But really I wanna keep the focus today, um, because this is such an exceptional and traumatic incident on how we’re supporting our C.P. Allen family too. And I want to assure them that that’s the focus right now today at the school. 

There’s a lot to unpack in that short paragraph.  

Let’s bypass the attempts at redirection by Minister Druhan. It’s quite obvious she wants to turn the focus on how the province is supporting the staff and community of C.P. Allen and not answer a direct question with a clear answer. This is political sleight-of-hand 101: ignore the question being asked and answer the one you wished you had been asked. 

This is not the first time the Minister has inferred a consistency in school violence exists, as if it is normal for there to be school violence. In 2022, Minister Druhan told Saltwire Media “Education Minister Becky Druhan said the 2020-21 school violence numbers are pretty much on par with the past five years, though they did fall when students had to work from home during the spring of 2020.“  At that time, it was disclosed that the numbers, while extraordinary, do not provide an accurate picture as many incidents are not reported in the system.  

In 2022, Minister Druhan also stated “…the province has “realigned staffing to ensure that our teachers are able to focus on teaching and providing the supervision and guidance that they always have. And I think we’re seeing that that’s not leading to any increase in violence.” If all incidents were indeed reported, we could consider this an accurate sentiment. But at the same time, the real question is, why isn’t there a decrease in incidents. No increase is not an indicator of improvement.  

It’s not 5%. Not even close. 

Minister’s Druhan’s perspective on school violence, is not based on accurate and complete data. Minister Druhan believes that the rate of violence is approximately 5%. To be gentle and kind, that statement is not fact-positive. We have data from FOIPOP releases 2022-20092-EDU and 2022-01645-EDU that show the incidents for physical violence from 2017-2018 school year up to the 2021-2022 school year, along with the student enrollment numbers for those years. 

Here are exactly the rates of violence in Nova Scotia schools for the past five years (not including the current one): 

School Year Violent Incidents Enrollment Rate 
2017-2018 13,991 118962 11.76 
2018-2019 14,864 120604 12.32 
2019-2020 10,386 123239 8.43 
2020-2021 11,131 115938 9.60 
2021-2022 13,776 125124 11.01 

The number isn’t 5%. The number isn’t even “steady” as the Minister put it. It’s 10.62%. But that’s the tip of the iceberg. 

We allege that the problem has always been there, but at a higher rate than the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development states. Is this simply Minister Druhan downplaying the facts or is the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development not being forthcoming with data to its own Minister? Considering other Ministers of Education and FOIPOP response letters regarding violence in schools have pedaled the same objectively false 5% number, we will consider giving Minister Druhan and her predecessors the benefit of the doubt and allege this number is a systemic belief; a myth; simply a Department of Education and Early Childhood Development talking point, repeated enough until it’s perceived fact. 

A number of problems exist with data collected by the province. For instance, enrollment does not equal attendance. Factoring in the total number of days all students were actually in school would show a much more accurate rate over a 195-day school year. We must take into consideration that for both the 2019-2020 and to a lesser degree the 2020-2021 school years, in-person instruction was largely interrupted by COVID-19 shutdowns. This would largely explain the reduction for those two years. In fact, if you take just the roughly 65 school days (that’s 36% of their school year) kids were out of school in 2019-2020 you’d see the rate isn’t 8.43%, but is actually 13% based on their potential school attendance and actual attendance.  

Again…not 5%. This isn’t advanced calculus. This is basic mathematics. 

Provincial data does not factor in sick days, storm days, or any other excused or unexcused absence. An attendance policy is not active in Nova Scotia high schools and so being at school, does not equal attending class and does not guarantee students remain in the building or even on school property for the entire school day. In any case, basing the school violence rate on enrollment is not ideal, but it’s certainly far more accurate than the 5% number that provincial government is repeatedly trying to sell.  

Simply put, for the last five years the rate is nearly 11% without factoring in the percentage of days students are actually in class. The real number is likely much higher. 

The Minister states that many incidents are similar to the nature of a dodgeball argument that results in someone being pushed. This comment really did not play well within the education field. It was offensive in fact to many staff who have dealt with violence, and to other staff who have been injured by school violence. Poor and callous example aside, considering two public school employees were rushed to the hospital due to student-inflicted knife wounds, what exactly is the truth here?   

Is there no severity index for each incident in the system? (No, there’s not. We’ve seen the system.) Are we really okay with continuing to consider schoolyard shoving in the same category as stabbings, gangs jumping students in washrooms, fight clubs at lunchtime, students being body slammed and sucker punched in hallways, videotaped incidents of students being slammed headfirst into tiled locker-room floors, or kicked in the head repeatedly on school property?  Staff have reported being bitten, punched, spat on, had objects thrown at them, and many have been injured badly enough to require medical attention, some even hospitalization.

One of these things is not like the others, Minister Druhan. 

Does anyone at the provincial or regional levels have data on violent incidents in NS schools like the one at CP Allen?  

Is the Minister simply unaware of or doesn’t recall such incidents, but yet is quite aware of the violent dodgeball-inspired shoving wars that Nova Scotian children are so very well known to engage in?  

You can’t have it both ways.  

You can certainly state 99% of incidents are related to harmless dodgeball-style shenanigans and 1% related to stabbing educators.  

What you can’t do is allege that most incidents are harmless but have no awareness or commentary about the serious ones, nor the departmental transparency to show us what the data actually says about what actually goes on inside our schools. 

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