School safety: Are teachers still “in place of” parents?

When I went to teacher’s college, it was drilled into us that, as teachers, we would have a tremendous amount of responsibility because we were “in loco parentis” or “in place of parents.”

Now, what exactly does that mean? To me, at that time, it meant that teachers (under the authority of their principal) were to be responsible for the safety of their students in their classrooms or when they were on supervision in the hallways or the school yard. In fact, we were told we were legally responsible during such times of supervision. It was that serious an issue.

However, times seem to have changed so slowly, few may have noticed that “in loco parentis” no longer seems to apply. While I know all school boards and principals do their utmost to protect the children and youth in their care, and most classroom teachers really do watch out for their students, parents need to know what is happening.

For example, as Moira MacDonald wrote in yesterday’s Toronto Sun:

“One of the big problems principals face — and parents should pay attention to — is supervision at school. Principals are ultimately responsible for keeping kids in school safe — which can number from a few dozen to a couple of thousand. But their tools for doing that have been gradually slipping through their fingers. For years, there have been growing concerns a cut to the number of staff in schools, and teacher contracts that have negotiated down the amount of time teachers can be asked to supervise students outside their normal classrooms, are making public schools less and less safe.”

Now, what exactly does MacDonald mean by “negotiate away the amount of time teachers can be asked to supervise students?” When I was teaching at the elementary level back in the mid to late 1970’s, I taught in an urban school that was just on the boundaries of a fairly large city — meaning most students were bussed. 

Sixteen or seventeen teachers had to share: morning bus duty (inside and out), morning recess, lunch hall duty, lunch outside duty, afternoon recess and end of the day bus duty. And, that was tripled because there were the primary, junior and intermediate yards and three separate locations within the school. Which meant that teachers had some kind of duty every single day.

Yet, last year, the Ontario Principals Council had to hold a rare press conference to ask for standards in school supervision. In response, did they get assurances from the teachers’ union (ETFO) out of concern for students safety or supervision? No, instead it was a how dare you make “an unwarranted attack on collective agreements” response. Pardon me? 

As MacDonald says: “Next time you’re wondering where a teacher union’s ultimate priorities are — representing its members’ interests or students’ — remember that.” In loco parentis? Hardly. If parents decided to reduce their supervision, it would be called neglect and endangerment and they would lose custody of their children.

If classroom teachers don’t agree with this reduced responsibility and care, why do they vote to accept such agreements? Or, has it not occurred to them,  that they have, over time, essentially been forfeiting their right to be “in loco parentis” or in “a parent’s place.”

Attention parents — find out what the situation is in your children’s school. Find out how supervision is organized and managed?

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4 thoughts on “School safety: Are teachers still “in place of” parents?

  1. Part of the problem is also the culture of public schools at this time in history. With political correctness the rule of law…what can a good teacher do?

    I taught at a career college recently so while I am not a ‘teacher’ per se, I do know a bit about the profession. I also know plenty of teachers.

    To be blunt, if I was at a public school and a student came to tell me that they were being harassed by another party and if the harasser was a visible minority and the harassee was not…I would be loathe to deal with it. I have talked to teachers that have expressed that same sentiment because they know if the issue erupts, they will not get the benefit of the doubt. Even most teachers would not defend them. Am I wrong on that?

    When I was in high school I knew plenty of teachers that would stay after school and befriend students and talk to them after class. Would they do that now and risk an accusation of sexual harassment themselves?

    I agree that most teachers abdicate much of their responsibilty, but I also understand why many good teachers are afraid to speak up. They are also afraid of the powers of their union.

    I know there are many good teachers, but sadly I think the profession has been greatly watered down in the past generation.

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  2. Nicol — You are absolutely right about the fears teachers have.

    But, let me clarify. That is not what I am referring to. I am not referring to teachers staying after class to help students, etc. I am talking about organized supervision. That is quite different. You wouldn’t run into that at the college level.

    Organized supervision is when teachers, as part of their duties, have to take their turns in the school yard to supervise recess or lunch duty or while students are coming off the school buses in the morning or getting on in the afternoon.

    Supervision involves safety and security issues where an adult must be present at all times to make sure children are safe, where children are not allowed to bully, or where they safely line up to go into the school.

    Superivsion is, of course, more an issue at the elementary level than secondary, but still part of the job description. Although cafeteria, hall and stairwell supervision in high school is crucial as well.

    On the other matter, on the issue of fears about being accused of abuse, teachers are afraid to hug even the little ones nowadays. And, both genders have to make sure they keep their classroom doors open at all times. All it takes is one false accusation and your career is ruined.

    So, I hope I was able to clarify the difference between what you discuss and supervision.

    As a retired educator, I have a lot of respect for teachers. My husband is one as well. But, these issues need to be addressed and now that I am retired, I am completely free to open whatever can of worms needs to be debated. In other words, the criticism of policies or practices or collective agreement decisions are in no way meant to be criticism on the practitioners.

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  3. In Newfoundland, the teachers’ union will be asking for the elimination of supervision for teachers during recess breaks and have parents to come in to supervise the children. If not have paid employees to do it. This year I have notice that children in grade 7 must only ask questions about homework, tests during a specific time during the day which is usually during the lunch hour. As a parent I was yelled at by the teacher because my daughter has the nerve to asked about her science lab which she miss, just before school was closed for the day. Later on, I found out by my daughter, if you miss a day or did not write down your homework, you are only alllow a specific time to approach the teacher. It is the same for high school, where students are not allowed to approach their teachers during recess and the lunch hours for homework or questions they have about their subjects. If they do, it can result in detention for students. For other things such as having a drink during class or going to the washroom, a student must purchase a hallway pass for each semester at a cost of $32.00. If anyone is wondering I am making plans for my daughter to go someway other than the local highschool. The majority of students who get detentions and suspensions at the highschool are students who have special needs such as learning disabilities.

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