Analysis shows history of inconsistencies in how Hamilton school board tracks violence

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Students tearing apart classrooms, smashing windows and "beating the snot out of each other," are just some of the violent behaviours two teachers with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) say they've witnessed at work.

But a CBC News investigation found that despite the violence the teachers describe seeing every day, the board — like many others in Ontario — repeatedly failed to report accurate figures on violence to the Ministry of Education.

The findings come as the community is still reeling from the death of 14-year-old Devan Bracci-Selvey, who was fatally stabbed behind Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School — allegedly by one of his schoolmates.

Two brothers, a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old are charged with first-degree murder.

When she heard about the stabbing, one teacher CBC spoke with said she was saddened, but not shocked based on what she's experienced at the elementary level.

"It's really dangerous what we're enabling the kids to do. They think they have no consequences," she explained, adding she believes the board could see more extreme violence if things don't change.

"I'm not surprised at all that a student actually went through with it. They tell them they're going to kill each other all the time, even at Grade 3 at my school."

CBC's analysis of the ministry's official school violence statistics found at least one-third of school boards across the province have important gaps or inconsistencies in the figures they have been submitting electronically to the ministry since 2011.

"It tells me that they're not taking it seriously," said Tracy Vaillancourt, Canada Research Chair in Children's Mental Health and Violence Prevention at the University of Ottawa. "This problem that they are pretending doesn't exist will continue and will likely get worse."

Among the most notable inconsistencies CBC found were figures submitted by the HWDSB.

The board says those issues did not "in any way impact" how the schools responded to violent incidents.

HWDSB incidents include possession of weapons, assaults

Ontario boards are legally required to report the total number of violent incidents on an annual basis to the ministry. Those include all incidents that occur on school premises or during school-run programs, including physical and sexual assaults, weapons possession, robbery, extortion and any racial or homophobic motivated violence. 

According to the ministry, each board is responsible to "collect and analyse data on the nature of violent incidents" and use that information to inform board policies, including its Safe Schools policies.

The ministry's most recent tally of violent incidents shows the HWDSB submitted 13 reports in 2017-18. However, an earlier version of the table obtained by CBC through the Freedom of Information Act shows the board initially reported 252 incidents that same year, by far the highest number in the province.