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OPSEU to Simcoe board: ‘Protect your support staff’

Barrie – Following the latest assault on an educational assistant with the Simcoe County District School Board, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is calling on the board to make staff safety its top priority.

“Staff safety used to be a priority for the school board,” said OPSEU Local 330 president Kelly Martin. “That’s clearly no longer the case. Their actions over the last several months, which have put staff at needless risk and resulted in assaults, demonstrate they consider staff to be expendable.”

Martin represents some 1,800 support staff at the Simcoe County board. Of particular concern are educational assistants, who are in direct and sustained contact with potentially violent students and, therefore, most at risk for assault.

“Last May, an educational assistant was knocked unconscious after a student smashed her head off a corner of a wall when she entered a classroom,” said Martin. “Even after that incident, the board continues to keep staff in the dark about students’ violent past when transitioned to another school.

“Just last week, another educational assistant was beaten, resulting in a fractured hand and severe swelling and bruising on several parts of her body. This may have been prevented if the board had ensured that the necessary equipment and programming was in place for the aggressive student.

“The Ministry of Labour has been called to investigate three recent incidents related to student violence,” she noted. “How many staff need to be attacked before this board takes a proactive approach to protecting them from harm?”

OPSEU is demanding that the Simcoe County board make staff safety its number-one priority – not a secondary consideration. It is also calling for safe transition planning for students who have a history of violence and move from one school to another. Further, the union wants all staff to be informed when they could encounter a student with a history of violent behaviour.

“The board’s attitude of ‘what they don’t know won’t hurt them’ has backfired,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “Staff have been seriously hurt – and will continue to get hurt, or worse – until this board finally comes to its senses and takes action to protect its workers.

“Our students can’t get the best possible education if their instructors fear for their safety. It’s clearly in students’ best interests when staff don’t have to worry about making it to the last bell.”

For more information: Kelly Martin, 705-730-8707