'Biting, kicking & punching': Canadian elementary school teachers forced to wear Kevlar vests
The unusual move is in response to rising classroom violence from pupils and not based on a fear of being shot. Teachers are donning protective gear made from Kevlar, a material used in body armour, which includes vests and leg sleeves.
"We're [dealing with] everything ... biting to kicking and punching," Jeff Pelich, vice president of a chapter of Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario told CBC. "Between our teachers and educational assistants, and child and youth workers, many of them are now required to wear Kevlar, to wear full vests to protect themselves from punches and kicks."
There were around 1,300 incidents of student-on-teacher violence in elementary schools in the Waterloo Region District School Board last year, an increase of about 400 from the previous year.
Teachers have been complaining about rising incidents with students for a while now, with many pointing to a lack of funding as a reason for the issue.
According to the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, 70 per cent of its members have experienced or witnessed violence in their jobs. Some 77 percent said the school’s actions to prevent a recurrence was not effective.
According to Pelich, the gear is usually worn by teachers working in classes with students with special needs. He said that the violent incidents aren’t limited to children in special education, and that the increase in incidents is as a result of a lack of resources and funding.
“We’ve been advocating for years. It’s not fair for our children with special needs not to be able to get the right supports inside of the classrooms, and that has been the biggest issue that we’ve had,” Angela Pugliese, a mother of an autistic boy, told Global News last year. “I’d like to see [teachers and educational assistants] know how to handle it — how to handle an outburst, how to handle meltdowns — and I’m finding they’re not trained enough to do it.”
Pelich is calling on the Ontario government to increase funding, citing the fact that students in secondary education receive more funding per child than in elementary school.
“Our government is working tirelessly with our partners to strengthen and create a culture of health and safety in our schools,” Ontario’s Education Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris told Global News, adding it would spend CA$220,000,000 ($179,000,000) this year to hire over 2,400 teachers and education assistants.
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