The surprising findings, drawn from recent safety reports from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), show that, while suspension rates overall have gone down, students enrolled in kindergarten to Grade 3 are increasingly being sent home as punishment.
Released annually, the TDSB Caring and Safe Schools Reports contain a comprehensive overview of student suspension and expulsion data logged throughout the school year. In 2014-15, 12 per cent of all suspensions were doled out to primary students. The figure was pegged at 6.7 per cent just three years prior.
Elementary Teachers of Toronto president John Smith said the report is yet another signal to Queen’s Park that government cutbacks have left teachers ill-equipped to deal with the current classroom climate.
“It may seem strange saying it, but 3- or 4-year-olds in kindergarten can be violent to their peers or teachers,” he said. “There have been cases of broken teeth, stabbings with pencils, pregnant teachers who are head-butted.”
Earlier this year, TDSB trustees moved to cut 23.5 special education support staff positions. The reduction was one of several cost-saving measures adopted by the board to offset a $ 16.5-million shortfall in this school year’s funding.
In an emailed statement, Ministry of Education spokesperson Gary Wheeler said public school boards receive funding for various initiatives, such as programming for expelled and long-term suspended students.
“If we are trying to train students to act in a certain way, shaming and isolating them from their classroom community isn’t helpful.”
Dyer suggests schools replace the suspensions with restorative-justice techniques instead. This “talking-it-out” approach, she said, turns incidents into teachable moments that apply to the entire class.
“It is a way to teach students they are a part of my community and how they can ally themselves and work with the individual who is struggling or acting out.”