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'They won't tell you anything': Violent alleged school assault sparks parent's push for transparency

DARTMOUTH, N.S. -

The mother of a 15-year-old student who was the victim of an alleged assault in a hallway at Dartmouth High School in Dartmouth, N.S., is calling for transparency on violent incidents inside schools.

Kristie Kelly’s son was the target of the alleged attack, which was caught on video distributed on social media, on Sept. 12.

The video shows her son being punched in the head while on the floor, and several times his head was smashed into the linoleum.

Kelly says the school’s vice-principal called to inform her that her son was involved in a fight and that she “might” want to get him checked out at a hospital.

“They really didn't seem to indicate that it was as aggressive as it was, and then once we got home, we started getting the videos and it was excessively violent,” she says.

When she and her husband arrived at the school, Kelly says another fight between students was actually in progress in front of Dartmouth High. She says once that broke up, they waited an hour to speak to the principal.

Kelly says Dartmouth High officials failed to call police immediately following the incident, instead “leaving a message with the police liaison who was on vacation.”

She says her son told her what one of the alleged perpetrators did.

“(The accused) and his friends said, ‘Let’s get (the victim) in the bathroom because there's no cameras,'" she says.

“(They) came running at him, and (the victim) slugged them, he's like, ‘No, you're not getting me in the bathroom.' They ended up kicking him in the head, (and) bouncing his head off the floor.”

Her husband took their son to the IWK Health Centre and also called Halifax Regional Police.

Two 17-year-olds are now facing charges, with one youth charged with assault, and the other with theft and possession under $5,000, after a chain was ripped off her son's neck.

As for punishment from the school, Kelly says her son was suspended for several days, as were the alleged perpetrators.

Upon his return to class, she was then shocked when one of the accused ended up in the same classroom as her son, despite a court-imposed non-contact order.

“The kids think they can get away with stuff in schools and not be charged by police, because the school doesn't call the police, they deal with it internally,” says Kelly.

“(School administrators) won’t tell you anything, they won't tell us what's being done about the violent aggressors at the schools,” says Kelly. “It's frightening to think that there's stuff like this happening in schools where we think our children are safe, and they're not.”

It's not the only recent violent incident at a school. Since posting about the incident online, Kelly has received stories and messages from other concerned parents throughout the city.

Last month, a student was stabbed in a large fight outside Halifax West High School.

Two youths, a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old, face charges of assault, aggravated assault, and possession of a weapon dangerous to the public.

The president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union says reductions made by the Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE) to unassigned instructional time for teachers last year, which the union maintains amounts to staffing cuts, is part of the problem.

“Teachers are concerned about the lack of supervision in their schools from a student perspective,” says Ryan Lutes.

“There are some students that don't feel safe to go to washrooms in our high schools, they go off-site,” says Lutes. “Teachers need to be in those spots to reduce those instances.”

Lutes says teachers are the best-equipped to monitor students, because of the relationships they form both inside and outside the classroom.

“When there’s less teachers in the hallways and in cafeterias supervising students, then that impact, we’re seeing that,” says Lutes.

The HRCE says it added staff to ensure school safety -- a total of 26 positions divided up among 17 high schools.

The HRCE declined CTV's request for an interview to speak to general concerns raised over anecdotal reports of violence in schools, and wouldn't speak to the specific incident at Dartmouth High, citing privacy concerns.

"I am unable to provide details about specific incidents... However... any act of violence is always taken seriously,” writes HRCE acting communications coordinator Kelly Connors.

“Anyone who endangers the well-being of others, damages property or...disrupts the learning environment receives immediate and appropriate consequences,” Connors continues.

To maintain confidentiality, these consequences are not shared publicly. When necessary, schools contact police,” the statement also reads.

Kelly wants more transparency around violence in schools.

“I would like an annual report that actually tells you how many kids were suspended, how many knives there were, how many sexual assaults there were, how many gun violence things there were. I want to know what's going on in my kid’s school,” she says.

However, to get those numbers, Kelly would have to file a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy request with the HRCE.

Right now, the family is gathering stories on a Facebook page created by Kelly’s husband called, “The Pink Shirt Façade," where parents share stories of violence and bullying at schools in Nova Scotia and beyond.

Kelly’s calling on the province to make data on violence in Nova Scotia schools more readily available to the public.

“I want some actual work being done and I want it to be clear and transparent to us as parents because we have a right to know how safe our children are in schools.”

The family’s calls to Education Minister Becky Druhan and other provincial and federal politicians on the issue were only met with silence.

But she’s not giving up.

“It's frightening to think that there's stuff like this happening in schools where we think our children are safe, and they're not,” says Kelly.

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