School Daze: TDSB principals and vice principals stressed out by harassment and violence

Toronto District School Board principals say they are stressed out by constant harassment and escalating threats of violence in a “toxic work environment.”

Ian Harvey Principle Curator

Toronto District School Board principals say they are stressed out by constant harassment and escalating threats of violence in a “toxic work environment.”

In a shocking report, the Toronto School Administrator’s Association (TSAA), representing approximately 1,000 principals and vice-principals in 584 elementary and secondary schools, says a survey released this month finds members are not surprisingly buckling under increasing violent behaviour in schools where shootings, stabbings and assaults are now common place.

More alarming was the discovery that only 34% of respondents said their schools had functioning security cameras while the rest noted there were either no cameras, or they weren’t working or lacked cameras where needed.

Some 28% said exterior doors were not locking properly or were being propped open allowing access to schools by outsiders. Further nearly half of swipe cards weren’t working properly while 54% said had no swipe card system to control access.

Even the time honoured tradition of PA announcements has fallen into disrepair. While   57% reported their systems were working well, 43% said their system were antiquated, not working or broke down often making a school wide security alert in case of a lockdown or other threat impossible.

School Shootings Are Common

The report has been shared with TDSB executives who have not yet responded.

Further, the report, Leadership Within A Changing Landscape, finds the resulting stress of violence compounded by workplace harassment such as the recent controversy of a six-year-old Black student who was given a time out after repeated acting out in class.

Colleen Russell-Rawlins

This was called out by the Ontario Principals Council in a public statement across Ontario, decrying TDSB director Colleen Russell-Rawlins for calling it systemic racism before investigating the facts, taking the word of the advocacy group which has been harassing school leaders across the GTA.

This reflects in the response of 43% of those surveyed who say they’re facing “harassment from parents, guardians, and/or parent and advocacy groups.”

Bullying by Teachers

More than two thirds say their biggest source of harassment is teachers who are “bullying, harassing and intimidating” them, followed by fellow administrators and their superintendents.

“It’s a toxic work environment,” says a TDSB administrator who fears reprisals if identified. “Leaders feel there is a big disconnect with the senior team who have little understanding or don’t care about what is truly happening on the ground level. Really, senior team just does not care about their leaders. This culture of fear is at the worst level ever and much worse than under the leadership former director Donna Quan.”

One of the factors most complained about were staffing shortages with high levels of absenteeism among their teachers. This is exacerbated by a growing list of 50 principals on paid suspension. Some have been suspended for reasons not explained to them and others wait up to two years to be cleared. In turn this means principals are stretched covering for missing colleagues while still meeting expectations at this own school.

Other factors cited are increased workloads, fewer resources, the introduction of new digital technology, PowerSchool by the IT department which did not consult or train users adequately and intensifying student and family needs.

The result of all these stressors is that not only are principals and vice principals retiring or leaving the TDSB, but senior teachers who would normally move up to an administrative role are declining to apply, leaving the system even more short.

“Further, retired administrators who could come back temporarily are also reluctant because they see a board where the leadership takes every opportunity to place blame rather than offer support,” the source says.

Why Get Promoted?

“Teachers see first hand the pressure, hours and lack of positive feedback their leaders experience,” the report notes. “As a result these potential school leaders see low resources and high levels of critique and wonder if a change to school leadership is worth it.”

The survey, buttressed by analysis of reports and emails to the TSAA, also found 61.2% of members said they could not “realistically lead their schools” with their current workload and 65% said it was impacting their own sense of well being.

Even those principals and vice-principals who are carrying out mandated anti-racism initiatives, including racialized female leaders, say they are being harassed.

This has led to a statement from the Ontario Human Right Commission which flagged those incidents: (The OHRC) continues to hear about the increasing violence targeted at education officials for doing human rights work.”

The report makes 11 recommendations to address the results of the survey, among them more focus on school safety such as fixing basic issues like doors and cameras, that superintendents treat principals and vice principals with more respect and dignity, act when a Health and Safety issue is brought forward such as an harassment complaint and respond in 24 hours to questions.