Although it was after ten o’clock last night by the time the legislature’s Education Committee heard public testimony on a bill to help ensure classroom safety and address student assaults, CEA members and staff made sure they were present to testify so that legislators could hear their stories.
“I am here today to tell you that there is a crisis in many schools across Connecticut related to student and teacher safety. And although it might seem incredulous, the majority of the most serious safety issues are occurring in elementary classrooms, including in pre-kindergarten,” CEA Program Development Specialist Robyn Kaplan-Cho told legislators.
With increasing frequency, teachers are reporting being assaulted by students in their classrooms. From being kicked, bitten, and knocked down to having chairs and books thrown at them, teachers are dealing with a sharp rise in aggressive student behavior that impacts not only educators, but also students.
“Students are disrupting classrooms and putting themselves, other students, and teachers at risk at an alarming rate,” said CEA President Sheila Cohen. “Oftentimes, the disruptive students are taken out of the classroom for a short period of time and then returned right back into the same classroom, where the aggressive behavior continues.”
“I came to Manchester a very healthy and active 33-year-old woman,” said social worker Charity Korb. During her years as a school social worker she’s sustained multiple injuries from which she’s never been able to heal as she’s been repeatedly injured by students again and again.
“There’s such a large number of students who need significant behavior supports that I can’t ever bring anything to fruition,” said Korb, who is the only social worker for the 300 students at her elementary school. She says she daily misses regularly scheduled appointments with students who have an IEP or 504 plan because other students are acting out and disrupting their class.
“I’ve been injured multiple times by different students over the last few years,” said Heidi Kapszukiewicz. Kapszukiewicz retired from a career teaching art in Norwich just weeks ago, but not because she wanted to. “My career was suddenly stopped short because of my host of injuries. I loved what I did. When I got punched in my right shoulder and they tore my rotator cuff I was so upset they robbed my career from me.
“I’m here to speak for my colleagues and other teachers because I know they love what they do, they’re very passionate, they would do anything for these kids,” Kapszukiewicz told legislators. “No student, no teacher should go to school afraid of what might happen to them that day.”
Watch Heidi describe how student assault ended her career.
Many teachers were unable to attend yesterday’s hearing but still made their concerns known in written testimony submitted to legislators.
Teachers urged legislators to pass Senate Bill 453, An Act Concerning Classroom Safety and Disruptive Behavior, to address this troubling trend and enact policies and procedures to appropriately handle student disciplinary issues.
“Our teachers and students need your help and this bill provides a starting point,” urged Kaplan-Cho. Measures in the bill include
- requiring reporting of incidents of violations of daily classroom safety
- enhancing response and establishing appropriate procedures regarding violent behavior
- requiring administrators to follow up to address violent behavior on an ongoing basis
- allowing teachers to remove students from the classroom who have assaulted someone or are a threat to the safety of others
- ensuring violent students receive appropriate supports before returning to the classroom
“One of CEA’s proposals would allow a teacher to remove a student from the classroom who has assaulted someone in the classroom, repeatedly bullied other students, or is a threat to the safety of others, and place the student in an appropriate setting that does not threaten other students,” said CEA Executive Director Donald Williams. “It requires that the student receive appropriate supports before returning to the classroom.”
“If a classroom has to be cleared several times per week because a student is having a meltdown and throwing chairs and pulling down bulletin boards, none of those students, including the disruptive one, is learning,” Kaplan-Cho said. “Just last week a teacher told me that from the time the tantrum began and she had to quickly remove the rest of the class to another safe place until the class was able to return to her room, three hours had elapsed.”
“Teachers should not have to be fearful of students in their own classrooms. When violent incidents happen, teachers must feel protected and supported by administration. We must put an end to the increase in student violence, address behavioral issues, and hold administrators accountable for taking action,” concluded Cohen.
I sustained three distinct injuries of significance while I was teaching. Two of them were out-of-control-student assaults. I was not able to report them, in one case, my calls to the office for help were ignored by administration and security. I spoke to the head of district security and he flat out told me that there was “no such thing as student assault on a teacher in New Haven Schools”. I then had a student leave a death threat directed at me on my white board the same day that he had a meltdown in my classroom. This threat was not taken seriously. These injuries, and my fear of future injuries led to my forced early retirement based on impairments. I am glad to see CEA taking this seriously. My union did not.