Being an educational assistant in the Brandon School Division can be a dangerous job.
“Hitting and biting and scratching, and just the unknown,” said Jamie Rose, vice-president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 737. “Sometimes you don’t know what the child is going to do, is the biggest thing.”
EAs are often working one-on-one with at-risk students, as well as children with disabilities.
“It could happen in all areas but certainly in Life Skills, where some of the students don’t have the same understanding of appropriate conduct … there may be a little bit more of that,” board chair Mark Sefton said. “And that’s not a fault of the student, that’s just the nature of where they are.”
The division recently adopted a new workplace violence prevention policy to cover all aspects of violence — everything from student to student, student to teacher and teacher on teacher.
“When we talk about workplace violence, it could take place in a whole bunch of different forms … so what this policy does is it kind of brings it all together,” Sefton said.
The division previously had a student conduct policy, as well as a harassment policy. The new violence prevention policy was adopted in May and covers the entire division.
“The whole idea for any of those policies is to produce a positive learning environment, which is also a positive working environment,” Sefton said.
CUPE 737 represents support staff in the division, which includes EAs. Rose said the new policy will help keep staff members safe.
Part of the policy is to let a new EA be fully aware of a student’s history.
“If we have a child in the school who may have a new EA coming in, the principal is going to let them know … what sets this child off,” Rose said. “If the bell rings, and it sets this child off, then they know to be prepared for something.”
Principals are to inform employees who work in settings where they could be at risk of violence, which includes students who have a history of violence or students who have specific medical conditions, which may increase the probability of the student becoming violent. Principals will also inform employees of parents or guardians who have a history of violence or who have posed a threat.
Rose said they could be issues at all levels, from kindergarten through Grade 12.
“There’s incidents in all of the schools,” Rose said, adding the life skills programs at Riverheights and Neelin see a higher number.
Substitute teachers may also be faced with a violent incident.
“It’s not very often. It’s occasionally,” Rose said.
All employees within the division have a responsibility to ensure a safe workplace. According to Policy 5074, employees who believe they have been witness to a violent incident are to report the incident to the principal or supervisor immediately.
Employees who have been victim of a violent incident must provide a written summary.
“The policy is a step forward, but it also has a burden of some of the investigation and reporting, which may on the one hand, slow things down, but I think with the requirement to report, I think it will allow us to get a better picture because sometimes people just sluff (a violent incident) off,” Sefton said.
If a complaint is filed, the employee has the right to refuse to work if the reported behaviour substantially interferes with their ability to work or their health and safety is jeopardized by continuing to work.
An investigation will be conducted on all complaints of threats and violent behaviour, unless it is clearly frivolous.
The most serious consequences are suspension or expulsion for students and loss of employment for teachers.
Sefton said that will only happen if “the whole thing worked its way through the process and there was guidance and support, and yet there were no solutions.”
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 15, 2012