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Intimidation, harassment and a 'jump list': New docs shed light on why staff walked off the job at a Toronto school

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New details have emerged about the safety issues that prompted more than a dozen staff members at a Toronto school including the principal, to refuse work last month.

CP24 has obtained documents from a Ministry of Labour “field visit” to York Memorial Collegiate Institute that was undertaken on Nov. 24 in response to the work refusals.

The documents detail a myriad of safety issues cited by the 14 staff members who refused work, beginning on Oct. 31.

While the reasons that each of the staff members gave for refusing work differ to some degree, there are a number of issues that were consistently raised in their individual accounts, including frequent fights in hallways and washrooms, instances of suspected drug dealing, a lack of immediate assistance when teachers request it, and the inability to identify students wearing face coverings such as balaclavas.

Several of the workers also detailed alleged instances of harassment by students and said that they felt unsafe in the classroom.

“Students use derogatory language towards this worker, students have thrown materials in this worker’s direction and students bang on this worker’s classroom door,” a summary documenting one of the teacher’s reasons for refusing work states.

Some workers say they were included on “jump list”

CTV News Toronto previously spoke to two staff members at York Memorial who expressed concerns about their safety at the school.

The workers said that they were witnessing near-daily fights and that one bathroom had even gained a reputation as a "fight club,"

The TDSB, for its part, has acknowledged that the amalgamation of York Memorial Collegiate Institute and George Harvey Collegiate Institute in September “hasn’t been without its challenges, concerns and indeed some fears.”

But it has also insisted that it is “starting to make much needed progress” as it works to address the concerns shared by staff and students.

In the documents obtained by CP24, three of the staff members who participated in the work refusals specifically expressed concern about their inclusion on a “jump list” that they said was created by students.

Some of the workers also described instances of “intimidation” by masked students who entered their classrooms and then refused to leave.

One teacher said that students regularly entered their classroom and “flick their lights on and off” while demanding to speak with other students while another teacher recounted an incident in which a student put their foot in their classroom doorway to prevent them from closing it.

Several other teachers said that students had hurled obscenities at them and, in some cases, blocked the exits to their classrooms in an attempt at “intimidation.”

In some of the accounts the “harassment” and “intimidation” also became violent, according to the worker accounts included in the documents.

One teacher said that a student had reached into their classroom and threw “a chalkboard eraser at their head.” Another said that “administrative staff had been assaulted and threatened by students.”

Meanwhile, some of the workers identified issues with the classroom phones that teachers are supposed to be able to use to summon help.

One teacher said that the phones were not working when a large fight broke out in the hallway on Oct. 28, resulting in staff receiving busy signals at first and later being told “by office staff that no one was available to help.”

“There is a lack of stable leadership, there is no code of conduct to address student behaviour, there is no understanding of how to lockdown properly, there is a lack of security around the school and there is lack of communication between the administration and staff,” a summary of another one of the workers’ complaints states.

All but two of the workers whose accounts are included in the documents identified an issue with students wearing full face masks that prevented them from being identified.

However, the school has since implemented a policy where all students will be required to display photo identification on a lanyard, at all times.

Ministry officials also said in the documents that staff have identified three to five students who consistently wear full face coverings and have “dealt with them on a one-on-one basis.”

Students protested safety concerns last week

The new details about the alleged safety issues at York Memorial Collegiate institute come after students staged a walkout at the school last week to demand a “safe and stable” learning environment. They described a school void of police presence and racial violence.

Following that protest, the TDSB sent a memo to parents outlining some of the steps they were taking to address the issues at the school, including the imminent hiring of a permanent principal, continued work to hire permanent teachers to address staffing shortages brought about by the work refusals and the addition of supervision and counselling supports.

The documents obtained by CP24 do note that the school undertook 17 measures to improve safety following an internal investigation that arose from the work refusals, including repairing all classroom phones and faulty locks, placing an additional safety monitor on site, instructing staff to utilize the “buddy system” when walking to the parking lot after school and having at least one staff members assigned to monitor the main entrance while it is unlocked.

But those steps did not resolve the work refusals, the documents note.

As a result, the Ministry of Labour has ordered the school to complete “a workplace violence risk assessment” by Dec. 9. It says that the assessment must specifically address risks related to the amalgamation of York Memorial Collegiate Institute and George Harvey Collegiate Institute in September, as well as concerns related to the presence of individuals in the school who cannot be identified because they are wearing full face coverings.

“This is not an exhaustive list of all the workplace violence risks that must be assessed,” ministry officials say in the documents. “The employer is responsible for identifying all risks of workplace violence at this workplace and shall address those identified risks in the workplace violence risk assessment.”

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