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Friday, April 19, 2024

School violence ‘shocks’ minister

Norway’s acting state education minister was calling on Thursday for an emergency meeting after reports of violence at a high school in Oslo. It’s the latest example of violence at schools in the Norwegian capital, now so bad that the high school’s rector involved said he no longer could offer either teachers or students a safe environment.

The Stovner high school is located in Groruddalen in Oslo, an area that has been subject to various social welfare problems and integration challenges. PHOTO: Stovner VGS

“We have a situation at the school that we can’t live with over time,” Terje Wold, the rector (principal) at Stovner videregående skole told newspaper Dagsavisen. “I feel a sense of unease that students and teachers can be injured.”

Since school began for the autumn term at the high school in Stovner on Oslo’s northeast side, Wold has had to deal with fights among students, confiscation of weapons and a situation last week in which one student threatened another with both an axe and an iron rod.

Police were called to the school last Wednesday to break up a fight that sent one of those involved to an emergency medical clinic. Teachers have felt forced to suspend classes and send students home, and some have broken down in tears over the fear and frustration they feel.

In yet another incident reported by Dagsavisen, police were called to the school and caught a student in possession of an electric-shock pistol. One third-year student at the school told Dagsavisen she’d never experienced such unrest  as now.

Stovner rector Terje Wold

Wold himself has called emergency meetings of staff and other school officials, and sent an email to them last week that described how developments at the school have been “extremely negative.” The fights and unrest, he wrote, “have created a steadily worsening work- and learning environment. Despite fantastic contributions from all of you, things have not become better.”

He confirmed to Dagsavisen that city education authorities had been kept informed of the “serious incidents” at the high school in Stovner, which has around 750 students. It’s described on the school’s own website has having a high degree of tolerance and diversity, located in a complex of buildings constructed in 1979 and renovated just last year. Its three-year curriculum that runs from the 11th grade also has an exchange program with schools in central London including West London College.

The reasons for the violence remain unclear, but it seems to have sprung up among new first-year students and became so acute that Wold sent written pleas for both short- and long-term help from Oslo school administrators. “I evaluated the situation as such that if something wasn’t done quickly, the school would go out of control,” he told Dagsavisen.

A crisis meeting was held late last week involving school officials, city officials, police, teachers and others. Wold and his colleagues reported on the fights, general unrest, a lack of respect in the classroom and an “aggressive and tense” environment. The situation was described as “serious, intolerable” and not likely to simply fade away by itself. Several teachers also feared for their own safety.

Acting state minister of education Henrik Asheim PHOTO: Kunnskapsdepartementet

On Thursday the state education ministry got involved, with acting Education Minister Henrik Asheim saying he was “shocked” by the situation at Stovner. “A rector must really not have to say, on the frontpage of a newspaper, that he can’t guarantee the security of teachers and students,” Asheim told Dagsavisen on Thursday. “We simply can’t have this in Norwegian schools.”

There have been reports of similar problems at other Oslo schools, though, along with incidents of vandalism and arson in the area around them. Asheim, filling in for Education Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen who’s on paternity leave this fall, said he didn’t mean to overrule Oslo city officials, who are directly responsible for their local schools, “but I think we need to address this as quickly as possible. As minister, I’m responsible for Norwegian education and the schools.”

Several measures have emerged to tackle the problems, including having more adults present both in classrooms and common areas, installation of security gates in and out of the school, more administrative personnel to help support teachers and school officials and better debriefing and follow-up of teachers and students subjected to violent situations. Police suspect “territorial conflicts” among some teenage students in the area, suggesting that gangs were behind the tensions at the school.

City officials claim that Stovner has received more than NOK 20 million in extra funding over the past two years to improve the school environment and provide resources to deal with unruly and troubled students. Three more social workers were being hired to help regain control. Asheim indicated that extra state funding and resources may be allocated as well. Berglund



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