Nova Scotia

Cole Harbour students stage walkout over school violence concerns

Dozens of students at a Halifax-area junior high school took part in a walkout Friday, calling for more action to address school violence.

Ava Merrick, a Grade 9 student who helped organize the walkout at Astral Drive Junior High in Cole Harbour, said the administration’s response to violent incidents at the school prompted the roadside demonstration.

“There’s a lot of violence in our school, we’re uncomfortable and we don’t feel safe,” said Merrick.

A spokesperson for the Halifax Regional Centre for Education confirmed that “an act of physical violence” took place Tuesday at the school. The school was placed in what’s known as a hold and secure, when movement in the school is restricted, “as staff dealt with a dysregulated student,” said Lindsey Bunin.

Bunin said violent behaviour is never tolerated.

“We recognize that it is frustrating when schools are unable to provide details due to privacy, but we can assure the community that this was a serious incident, and serious and immediate consequences are in place in accordance with the provincial school code of conduct policy.”

Students encouraged to speak out

Students who participated in Friday’s walkout said they feel unsafe at school, even going to the washroom. 

“There’s been a lot of violence at Astral Drive Junior High, the principals of the school and school district don’t seem to be doing anything about it,” said Amiah Clark, a Grade 9 student.

Clark said students who are concerned about their safety at other schools should also make their voices heard. 

“It’s really not good for the school environment,” said Meredith Giffin, also a Grade 9 student.

Nova Scotia’s auditor general is preparing a report on preventing and addressing violence in the province’s public school system.  

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Ryan Lutes, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, said he’s heard from an increasing number of parents who are concerned about the rising rate of violence in schools.

“We’re well behind on this,” said Lutes. “I think our kids and teachers deserved action on this five and 10 years ago. The next best time is today.” 

Scott Armstrong, chair of the Public School Administrators Association of Nova Scotia, said the organization is working with the province on a code of conduct review.

“There has to be a lot of work and a lot emphasis done by systems to make sure not only students are safe in buildings, but have the feeling of being safe,” he said.

On Monday, staff from the Halifax Regional Centre for Education will be on site at Astral Drive Junior High to speak with students.

“Staff will hear students’ concerns and determine what is needed to increase students’ sense of safety at school,” said Bunin.

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