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In a new article for Fortune Sept. 24, writer F. Chris Curran argued that violence soared in public schools post-pandemic during the 2022-2023 school year. Curran’s theory could be true because of some of the startling headlines I have written and read here at MadameNoire over the last year. To prove Curran’s point, the writer and police researcher – who studies academic and behavioral trends in students – cited the vicious February attack of a paraprofessional at Matanzas High School in Palm Coast, Florida. The victim–Joan Naydich– was knocked unconscious by a 17-year-old special needs student after she reportedly took his Nintendo Switch away during class, Wesh 2 News noted.

There was also the alarming assault of Tiwana Turner – a British literature teacher at Heritage High School in Conyers, Georgia— who spent six days in the hospital after a 9th-grade student attacked her. Turner was reportedly assaulted after she confiscated the teen’s phone. 

In March, I penned the heartbreaking attack of an assistant principal at Westfield High School in Houston who suffered a seizure after a mob of students punched her in the head for attempting to break up a fight between two female students.

The deplorable incident left me in shock and saddened for so many young teens and educational professionals nationwide. Teachers and students should be excited to attend school, but lately, the education system feels more like a prison than a place for academic success.

As Curran noted, several studies conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) have shown students experiencing emotional and behavioral issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It could explain the uptick in violence this year.

According to a school survey conducted by the NCES in July 2022, 87% percent of public schools said that the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on students’ socio-emotional development during the 2021–2022 school year.

“Around 84% of public schools agreed or strongly agreed that students’ behavioral development was relatively impacted by the pandemic,” the NCES noted. 

Around 56% of respondents said that classroom disruption and student misconduct increased due to the pandemic during the 2021-2022 school year. According to the data, 48% claimed that acts of disrespect towards teachers and staff climbed during COVID-19. Respondents noted a similar trend with rowdiness outside the classroom and with the prohibited use of electronic devices. The results were 49% percent and 42%, respectively.

Many factors exacerbated the issue– one being the lack of mental health support at public schools. Around 79% of public school respondents said they needed more student and staff mental health support. About 70% reported needing better training to support students with socio-emotional needs.

The survey noted that 60% of public schools were desperate to hire more staff, and around 51% needed training on classroom management strategies related to violence. Staff shortages and increased student absences threw more oil on the fire.

In August 2022, Education Week surveyed 1,042 district leaders, principals and teachers for a piece detailing teacher assault in schools. 

According to the survey, more than 4 out of 10 educators said they knew at least one teacher who had been physically assaulted or attacked in their district. Additionally, 10% of educators reported being personally attacked or assaulted by a student, Ed Week noted. 

Some educators argued that the uptick in school violence should have been expected. Experts say the rise in student misconduct reflects stress, isolation and mental health needs compounded by the pandemic. 

Grief is also a factor. According to the Covid Collaborative, around 203,649 children under 18 lost a parent or caregiver during the tumultuous period.


So, how do we solve the issue? 

Curran says that suspension is not the answer. He argues it could lead to poor academic test scores and more misconduct. School suspensions disproportionately impact black students.

The author notes that using the restorative justice method could help to quell violence. As defined by the Oakland Unified School District, restorative justice is a mediation practice that emphasizes bringing together “everyone affected by wrongdoing” to address needs and responsibilities and to heal the harm to relationships as much as possible.” This could be done through a “process of mediation with guidance from a faculty member or principal. 

Looking back on my high school days, I feel blessed that I had a caring mediation staff on site. When conflict at the school occurred, they would step in immediately to address the issue, keeping a calm, kind and relaxed demeanor –even when tension flared.

I rarely got into trouble in school, but knowing that I had a safe place, free of judgment, to express my concerns when they did arise was reassuring and something many of today’s students need as they struggle to navigate the world post-pandemic. 

It will take a whole village to implement change. Teachers, faculty and staff must come together to create a comprehensive plan that helps deter violence when it arises, whether through a mediation club, a hotline where students can call and address their concerns, or clear school policies.

Students must feel empowered and have a sense of responsibility to keep their school safe. Curran suggests this can be achieved through school events or after-school programs where students can build community. 

Lawmakers must also address the issue– not with stringent bans and strict policies. A comprehensive plan that ensures fair and equitable change must be designed to combat this growing issue- and it must be done soon. 

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