School violence growing concern
Threatened and assaulted, Fort McPherson teacher third to calls it quits

by Glenn Taylor
Northern News Services

NNSL (Nov 10/97) - A Fort McPherson teacher who quit town to escape youth violence is but the latest example of a growing threat to the education system.

Andy Gagne left McPherson last month after being assaulted, and seeing his property vandalized numerous times. Gagne was basically run out of town, according to Beaufort-Delta Education Council director James Anderson, the RCMP and another teacher.

Gagne was attacked by a 16-year-old in September after telling the boy to remove his hat in school. Shortly after, the door to his house was kicked down, his truck was egged, and broken bottles were thrown into his dog's kennel on two separate occasions.

"He seemed like someone who cared.... Basically the kids ran him out of town," said RCMP Const. Gary Hodges, who speculated the incidents were likely related.

A Fort McPherson teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, spoke of similar troubles. "I've had kids tell me they were going to stab me, wreck my truck, tear apart my snowmobile, and bring their friends to kick the shit out of me," said the teacher.

The teacher said he spent Halloween night on the porch with a hockey stick, to defend his home against kids who threatened to come calling. "Fort McPherson will have a hard time attracting quality or new teachers in the future if this problem contines," said the teacher.

Two-thirds of the students in the teacher's class are bright, eager learners, said the teacher. But several of the 22 are "right off the wall," and threatening the education of the rest of the class.

"These kids will be going to Grade 8 not knowing half of Grade 7, because these few are just pulling them under," said the teacher.

Pat Thomas, president of NWT Teachers Association, has heard similar complaints before. At least three teachers have left the territory since the fall under similar circumstances, "and we're in danger of losing more," she said.

"Teachers are increasingly contacting us about violence in school," said Thomas. "This unacceptable behavior has become a real issue with our members."

The association has been pushing the minister of education to implement a classroom violence zero-tolerance policy across the NWT.

Minister Charles Dent said he is "willing to work with the (association) to assess the problem and determine an appropriate response."

Const. Hodges said McPherson has the highest rate of youth crime per capita in the Inuvik Region. "We've got a community of 800 people with five (RCMP) officers -- what does that tell you?" said Hodges.

"The adults want to fix it, but nobody knows what to do," said the teacher.

"What this community needs is a huge meeting with everybody there, and kids are told, 'This ends now.'"