KENT, Wash. – Union officials are pointing to an increase in teacher injuries inflicted by elementary students as evidence that the Kent School District should hire more help to keep classrooms safe.
The union, which is currently in contract negotiations with the district, helped to organize a protest at tonight’s school board meeting, where teachers will demand that district officials hire more behavior intervention specialists, counselors and other school staff to work with troubled students, the according to the Maple Valley Reporter.
“We have elementary teachers and students that have to evacuate their classroom because of a violent student. We are required by law to provide a safe environment for all students and provide support for our students who have social and emotional challenges that result in disruptive or violent behaviors,” Kent Education Association President Christine Padilla told the news site.
The KEA alleges that a survey of more than 400 teachers revealed roughly a third have been assaulted by students. The union also shared numerous pictures of teacher injuries from student attacks.
Daniel Elementary School music teacher Michael Kerstetter told KOMO he’s currently nursing a neck injury from a student who yanked on his school lanyard, and has suffered other significant injuries at the hands of students in the past.
“There are other teachers who get hit a lot, it just happens,” he said. “I’ve had students slam doors on me, and I sprained my wrist last year when a door was slammed on it.”
Padilla told KOMO there’s been a noticeable increase “of teachers having to seek medical help at emergency rooms.”
And those injuries as a result of attacks from students at “much more earlier ages than in the past,” she told Fox Q13.
“These kids have very rough family lives and they come to school and they are very very sensitive to redirection,” teacher Dave Bohn told the news site.
“It’s unfortunate. But kids, that’s how they express themselves,” Kerstetter told KOMO. “They don’t know, they don’t have the verbal skills.”
Union officials have demand that school officials hire backup to help teachers deal with the troubled youth for about a year, and plan to amp up the call at tonight’s school board meeting, where teachers are expected to share their war stories, according to the news site.
The Maple Valley Reporter outlined what the union is after, but did not detail how much the demands would cost.
According to the site:
KEA members want an effective wrap-around system that includes counselors, board certified behavior interventionists, social workers and school psychologists that focus on the social and emotional needs of the students. They also want a discipline policy that promotes positive behaviors and requires consequences for negative and unsafe behaviors that disrupt learning.
While it’s common for teachers unions to demand that schools hire more employees – employees that would in turn become dues-paying union members – the situation in Kent comes amid nationwide backlash against “restorative justice” student discipline policies promoted by the Obama administration.
In an effort to reduce the disproportionate number of suspensions for black and minority students, schools across the country, particularly in large metropolitan school districts, are eliminating willful defiance and other bad behavior as offenses that trigger out-of-school suspensions.
Instead of sending unruly students home, many schools are now implementing talking circles, or other student-created punishments and returning students to the classroom to continue their disruptive and often violent behavior.
The complaints from Kent teachers mirror teacher reports from numerous other schools with “restorative justice” policies, and a 2014 article in The Seattle Times shows the Kent School District adopted the more lax approach to student discipline several years ago.
Regardless, Kent School District spokesperson Chris Loftis refused to discuss the district’s worsening student discipline problems with the media.
“Because we are in the middle of contract negotiations,” Loftis told Fox Q13, “I am unable to respond to specifics.”
The restorative justice student discipline in Kent schools is part of a broader effort by Washington state school districts to get on board with the new approach, but Sue McCabe, teachers union president in Highline Public Schools, told the Times in 2014 that the system reduces suspensions but ultimately creates more behavior problems and puts teachers at risk.
“Sure, our numbers look great,” McGabe told the Times in 2014. “But is behavior better? No, it’s worse. We’ve got kids saying ‘There are no suspensions anymore so we can do whatever we want.’ We’re in a pressure cooker, and it’s boiling.”