Teacher alleges 'state of crisis' at Mississauga school, board launches investigation

School board officials say they are investigating conditions at a middle school in Mississauga after an anonymous letter alleged that the school is in a "state of crisis" and unsafe.

'There has been no leadership,' teacher who wrote the letter tells CBC News

Teacher posts plea for help from violence in the classroom

12 months ago
Duration 2:28
A Toronto-area school board is investigating serious allegations of violence after a middle school teacher posted an anonymous plea on Twitter. The letter reflects similar reports from teachers across the country about violence in the classroom.

School board officials say they are investigating conditions at a Mississauga middle school after an anonymous letter alleged it is in a "state of crisis" and unsafe.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Peel District School Board said it is aware of the letter describing violence by students at Tomken Road Middle School, located in the Applewood Heights neighbourhood. The school, which runs from Grade 6 to 8, has about 900 students.

News of the investigation comes after a letter began circulating on Twitter on Saturday. In an interview with CBC News, the teacher behind the letter said students at the school are out of control.

CBC is not naming the teacher over fears of repercussions to their employment. 

"We're talking about a school, a climate in a school where staff and students are scared to walk down the hall. Just to walk from one class to another can incite fear in students and staff. We're talking about students completely ignoring any type of structure in the school, any type of rules," the teacher said.

"Students are scared. Doors are locked in our school... If you leave a door unlocked, a student will come in. They could steal something. They could vandalize. It's a scary place to be."

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The board said it is investigating specific claims made in the letter, adding the superintendent was at the school on Wednesday to support the school community and to organize meetings with staff this week. The board also said students have been suspended due to certain incidents alleged in the letter, though it did not provide specifics.

According to the letter, teachers, custodians, support staff, supply teachers, long term occasional teachers, office administrators, volunteers and students have faced "countless unsafe interactions on a daily basis" during the school year.

"The climate of our school is one of violence, fear and is well on its way to being one of long lasting trauma for many students. We write this letter as a desperate call for help to make changes to our learning environment in order to make it the safe place it once was," the letter reads.

The letter lists several examples of "disorderly conduct" by students.

They include students defecating on bathroom floors and rubbing feces on the walls, uttering homophobic slurs at staff and students, throwing empty cups at teachers' heads, stealing from other students, vandalizing washrooms and the office and threatening physical violence to other students and staff. 

Students have also called teachers names, have banged on their doors and run away and called the classroom phone and hung up repeatedly when the teacher has answered, the teacher who wrote the letter told CBC Toronto.

'There's been no help,' letter writer says

The teacher behind the letter, originally intended for the board, said it was written because teachers feel "defeated" and "alone" at being ignored by administrators.

The teacher said staff members have asked Principal Nicholas Berardi for help to improve conditions since September. After months of "inaction," at least 51 per cent of staff asked for a meeting with Supt. Dahlia Battick. According to the teacher, Battick agreed to meet for two hours over two days, but didn't show up to the first meeting because she said she forgot.

Neither Berardi and Battick responded to CBC Toronto's requests for comment.

"There's been no course of action. There's been no leadership. There's been no help. We keep having the same issues happen over and over again and nothing is getting done," the teacher said.

The Peel District School Board HJA Brown Education Centre on Hurontario Street in Mississauga, Ontario.
The Peel District School Board says it is investigating specific claims made by the letter, adding the superintendent was at the school on Wednesday to support the school community and that students have been suspended due to specific incidents alleged in it. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

The teacher said the school used to be well run, but conditions began to deteriorate a year ago.

"We had a different principal and the issues started last year with the students, the behaviour. But the inaction from our administration also started last year and it just rolled over to this year as well. And this is why we're concerned because we can't have another year like this," the teacher said.

"If you tell a student to do something, they look at you like you're a stranger. They look at you like, 'Who the hell are you? I don't have to listen to you.' Which has been said to staff as well," the teacher added.

"I'm sad to be honest. I'm sad for the students," the teacher said.

Letter calls for cell phone ban

The letter outlines specific actions that the teachers would like the administration and board to take.

"As a staff we are looking to reinstate some type of structure at our school. We want to ban cell phones. We want students to take responsibility for their actions. We need higher expectations and we need standards. We are also desperately seeking consequences for misbehaviour," the letter reads.

Lucas Alves, Peel District School Board trustee for Mississauga's Ward 3 and 4, said the letter "raises significant concern for me. I was shocked to see the letter and surprised, quite frankly."

In its statement, the board said it enacts measures to ensure students, families and staff are safe in each of its 259 schools. It said its schools implement strategies to ensure students stay in class and are engaged in their academics.

"Schools collaboratively promote positive student behaviour through restorative practices, build healthy and respectful relationships throughout the whole school community, work to prevent inappropriate behaviour through initiatives like bullying prevention and intervention programs, and address inappropriate behaviour through progressive discipline," the board said. 

The board also said it recently updated the school code of conduct.

"We are committed to ensuring that our students and school staff learn and work in safe school environments where students thrive and flourish and staff encourage student success. The safety and wellbeing of our students and staff is our top priority," the statement reads.

With files from Deana Sumanac-Johnson, Julia Alevato, Sneha Agrawal, Michelle Song, Muriel Draaisma