The head of a Yukon teachers’ union says the use of holds at a Whitehorse school is a symptom of larger, systemic issues, including chronic understaffing and inadequate oversight from the education department.
An internal review ordered by the Yukon Department of Education found that holds, restraints and seclusion were being routinely used on students at Jack Hulland Elementary School prior to 2020 for matters of “non-compliance,” according to meeting notes recently shared with CBC News.
The school also has a higher-than-usual number of workplace risk assessments, which must be filled out every time a hold or other serious incident occurs; deputy education minister Nicole Morgan said Jack Hulland has averaged 42 workplace risk assessments annually, accounting for approximately a quarter of all assessments in the territory.
However, Yukon Association of Education Professionals’ president Ted Hupé said those findings aren’t necessarily answers, but starting points. In an interview on May 18, Hupé told CBC News that while “nobody wants to hear that any sort of holds and restraints are being used,” it’s important to ask why teachers resort to those measures in the first place.
“My concern about some of the articles and news reports that are coming out [is] that they’re blaming teachers, but are we giving them the tools to do the job?” he said.
Hupé wondered whether the schools had enough resources to manage a high number of children with complex emotional needs.
“Because if a child cannot function in a classroom of 25, maybe the environment, maybe the situation isn’t conducive for them to flourish and thrive,” he said.
Teachers, principals being given ‘impossible task’
While recent political and media attention has focused on issues at Jack Hulland — parents have alleged violent confrontations and disruptions involving certain students, and there’s an ongoing RCMP investigation into the use of holds — Hupé said every school in the territory is facing operational challenges.
Besides staff shortages in many schools, Hupé said there’s a lack of adequate oversight from the education department itself in everything from tracking education and program outcomes to providing clear direction when policies, such as the one on the use of holds, change.
He also accused the department of using inclusive education as a “buzzword” without actually putting in the work to make it a reality.
“Inclusive education requires resources, it requires staffing to actually implement,” he said.
“If you have a vulnerable child and you put them into a regular classroom and you’re calling it inclusive education just because they’re included, I think that’s a misnomer. I think that’s why we’re running into trouble.”
Hupé said while it might be easy to “vilify” teachers or principals, he thought many were being thrown “to the wolves” and being given “an impossible task.”
“If you don’t have the right setting and if you don’t have the right resources, how are you going to help?” he asked.
“The reality is, we still have violent children in our schools as teachers still have to protect themselves and other children in the classroom.”