Jefferys lawless: Teacher
Tragedy predictable, he says
May 30, 2007 04:30 AM
TARA WALTON/TORONTO STAR
Dave Plaskett, a teacher at C.W. Jefferys, is protesting school’s policies that prevent discipline and accountability.
C.W. Jefferys Collegiate is a school wracked by lawlessness, where students swear, threaten violence, and throw textbooks at teachers who do not have authority to keep order, say some present and former teachers.
"Someone told me he was going to finish me," Dave Plaskett, a current teacher who has been at C.W. Jefferys for 25 years, told the Star.
This version of events contradicts those of the school's senior administration, members of the community, and the Toronto District School Board – and comes after Plaskett distributed a passionate denunciation of policies he says have crippled the ability of teachers to maintain order inside the school, where last week 15-year-old Jordan Manners was found shot. He died later in hospital.
"All the clues were there," Plaskett wrote, "that something tragic was predictable."
In an interview with the Star on Monday night, Plaskett confirmed allegations made by one former teacher and another current teacher who also commented but refused to be named.
"I've got nothing to lose," said Plaskett, who plans to retire this year. "There has got to be some changes."
His letter, which he distributed to staff members, administration and police on Friday, alleges several serious problems at the school. Among them:
Teachers were assaulted and threatened regularly by students.
Intruders had easy access to the school and were clogging halls during class time.
Students were bullied, robbed, and had their lockers broken into.
Instructions and requests made to students by teachers, hall monitors and administration were routinely ignored.
Plaskett and the other teacher said violations of the Safe Schools Act, such as swearing at teachers, threatening violence, or vandalizing cars, which usually merit automatic suspensions, were routine and went unpunished.
Sandra Fusco, who taught at C.W. Jefferys in the 2005-06 academic year, said it seemed the principal and vice-principals were concerned more with avoiding formal complaints – either to the teachers' union or to the police – than finding solutions to the problems.
Plaskett said, "They'd rather have a number of grief counsellors in the school than the police."
Stephnie Payne, York West's school trustee, said she was unaware of any serious incidents at the school before the shooting. She said if there were, it would have been the responsibility of the principal to inform the superintendent.
Repeated calls to Jefferys principal Charis Newton-Thompson were not returned. Administration at Jefferys has been advised by the Toronto District School Board's legal counsel not to comment.
"My experience is that the safe schools policy was followed," said board superintendent Verna Lister.
Donna Quan, safe schools superintendent for Toronto, said Jefferys was an outstanding school and urged concerned teachers to discuss their problems with administration and the school board.
"We'll be glad to meet," Quan said. "It's important to have courageous conversations."
In November 2006, about 50 lockers were broken into and emptied in less than 10 minutes, in what was clearly a co-ordinated theft. Plaskett said administration never called police.
Staff described the corridors as completely beyond their control, filled with "kids who were only marginally involved with school life," students who were skipping, or non-student intruders, said a current teacher.
"It's possible that (Manners' death) could have been prevented," Plaskett said, describing the chaos outside his classroom. "If there is no one in the halls during class, then nothing could happen."
Plaskett wonders why the school even has a code of conduct, since teachers are unable to punish students who crossed the line.
The teachers said threats of physical violence occurred regularly. They described calls home to parents and apologies to teachers as replacing punishments. Suspension rates across Toronto were down 29 per cent in 2005-06 from the year prior. Various school administrators now prefer alternatives, such as in-school suspensions.
The drop occurred the same year the Toronto District School Board settled a complaint from the Ontario Human Rights Commission for suspending a disproportionately high number of black students, in November 2005. Payne supported a lawsuit in December 2005 against Louie Papathanasakis, then-principal of Emery Collegiate Institute, who called police on students who were accused of assaulting another student. One was later convicted.
Fusco said the settlement, combined with discouragement from administration, denied teachers leeway to suspend disruptive or violent students.
"We were told that there's an initiative in the board to use alternatives to suspensions," said Fusco, referring to a staff meeting at the school when Anne Kojima was principal.
Teachers who spoke to the Star expressed sympathy for the administration's progressive approach to punishment. But they said it veered off the rails when students quickly realized that apologies were cheap, and that misbehaviour rarely received serious punishments.
Fusco described loiterers outside her classroom who intimidated her students as they walked in and out. Sometimes she could not continue with the lesson because their voices were louder than her own.
"I felt powerless," Fusco said.
When she told one of them to take off his hat, the man threatened her with a slap to the face. She complained to the administration, but only when Fusco filed a police report herself, and had the intruder charged with trespassing, was she satisfied with the administration's co-operation with the incident. Hall monitors were posted outside her room for two weeks.
"I still like C.W. Jefferys," Plaskett said, adding that 90 per cent of the students are great. "But I want some changes to be made so that we can have a school that is safe."